“We can reject everything else: religion, ideology, all received wisdom. But we cannot escape the necessity of love and compassion…. This, then, is my true religion, my simple faith. In this sense, there is no need for temple or church, for mosque or synagogue, no need for complicated philosophy, doctrine or dogma. Our own heart, our own mind, is the temple. The doctrine is compassion. Love for others and respect for their rights and dignity, no matter who or what they are: ultimately these are all we need. So long as we practice these in our daily lives, then no matter if we are learned or unlearned, whether we believe in Buddha or God, or follow some other religion or none at all, as long as we have compassion for others and conduct ourselves with restraint out of a sense of responsibility, there is no doubt we will be happy.” ~ Dalai Lama XIV
I think we can agree the universal thread among all religions and spirituality is compassion and currently the world is in need of more compassion. What if we haven’t mastered compassion because our definition of it is all wrong?
Looking at the very definition of the word suggests we don’t understand the full dynamic of emotions involved with compassion: sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
Compassionate individuals like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa, went beyond the mere recognition of pain of others and found ways to ease others pain. They were motivated to help through selfless service and kindness without expectation or an ulterior motive other than genuine love and concern.
Here is a step by step approach to becoming more compassionate we can all implement.
1. Self-Compassion Practice Comes First
Care and love towards others has its origins in care and love for oneself. You can only give to others what you have already cultivated within yourself. If you aren’t loving towards yourself, you will certainly criticize and expect the worst in others. Learning to have more compassion requires us to make the radical shift to assume the best in ourselves and others. Develop self-compassion by asking yourself this when you feel pain “This is a difficult for me right now, how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?” Recognize all of us suffer, make mistakes and are imperfect, it’s part of the shared human experience. Who said the goal was for us to be perfect anyway?
2. Be Aware of the Suffering of Others
To be compassionate toward others, we need to notice the suffering around us. If we overlook our friends pain, ignore the homeless person on the street or think someone else will help those affected by atrocities around the world, we can’t feel compassionate for others. To be aware, we have to practice being present and opening our eyes and hearts to connect to people around us. Once we care for others suffering, rather than mere pity, we will shift towards being more compassionate.
3. Feel the pain; but don’t get consumed
When we see someone in distress and our heart responds by feeling moved to lessen their pain, that is the essence of feeling another’s pain. This comes from a place of empathy and desire to help without expectation. This differs from listening to someone vent about their challenges and absorbing their negativity. When you get sucked into their drama and feel their anger, you deplete your own energy and are of no benefit or positivity to the person you seek to help.
We lead private lives, choose what we share with others and numb our emotions to avoid feeling discomfort. No wonder we have no feelings of empathy towards strangers or people in our life. Building genuine connections requires us to find the common thread between all of us: pain. Our painful life experiences are different, but the underlying pain we feel is the same. By being vulnerable and sharing our story with those who deserve to hear it, we feel connected to others. Feeling the pain of others requires us to recognize that our similarities far outweigh our differences.
5. Accept Other’s Life Experiences
We aren’t here to fight the battles of others, change their life situation or lecture them about how they should live their life. Sometimes people share their story to be heard, not for our advice. In some situations the best thing to say is “ I may not understand exactly how you feel, but I want you to know you don’t have to go through this alone.” We have to recognize that people are exactly where they need to be in this moment. We are here to bring relief to their situation and respect each of our individual journeys.
Having compassion means you offer kindness regardless of others attitudes or mistakes. The best way to practice this is by the loving kindness meditation. As you go about your day, silently bless the people you meet in your mind. “I send you love, happiness and peace in all areas of your life.” Kindness isn’t made up of grand gestures; it is a compilation of small acts of warmth. It’s a genuine smile, listening without judgment, a warm embrace or touch on a shoulder that can make another person feel your kindness and positive vibrations.
Our world is in dire need for compassionate souls who are willing to selflessly help others. Lack of compassion in our world is a shared human reality. We can make the world a more compassionate place, if we do our part to make ourselves more compassionate.
“Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.” ~ Dalai Lama