What is Compassion?
A simple definition of compassion: Deep awareness of the suffering of self or others, and the ability to be with that suffering, with profound acceptance, and without pushing it away, labelling it or judging it.
According to Pema Chodron (a Buddhist nun), “When we practice compassion, we can expect to experience the fear of our pain. Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us”.
Chodron teaches that we must be honest and forgiving about when and how we shut down. In compassion, we draw from the wholeness of our experience- our suffering and empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equal parts of ourselves. Only when we know our own darkness can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognise our shared humanity.
Reflection: To know our own darkness, is to allow ourselves to know the truth that we are human, fragile or imperfect. Yet many people with complex past experiences struggle to be compassionate with themselves. There may be a very harsh inner critic or a persecutory part that is quite relentless. Do you have an inner critic? If so, what are the most common beliefs or statements from this part? Would your best friend agree with what this part is saying?
So how do we learn to be more compassionate? It helps if we break compassion down into a behaviour or an action, so that we can get to know it as an experience, rather than just an idea which we might get around to “some day”. Think of compassion as an action word. What attitudes and behaviours would go with compassion, what does it look like in action? For example, being compassionate to yourself could mean:
- listening to your body
- learning to be present
- accepting or allowing difficult emotions or pain calmly
- learning to accept life on life’s terms if this is the best or only option
- being honest and gentle with vulnerabilities
- healing old patterns that are problematic
- finding balance
- allowing yourself to heal
- slowing down
- letting go of excessive shame or guilt
- being humble and soft instead of arrogant or rigid
- allowing your voice to be heard
- putting boundaries on those who dishonour you
- backing yourself instead of undermining yourself
- communicating frequently with inner parts to soothe and settle the system
- giving yourself and others kindness instead of harsh judgements/criticism
- all of the above
- other things not listed?
Looking at the list above, which aspects of compassion stand out the most and which ones do you long for ? I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas on this.