What is Compassion and How to Practice It - with Yasmin
Compassion is our natural state - Have you ever felt compassion for someone?Could you explain what compassion is? To answer these questions is to dive into the deeper meaning and practices of compassion. Compassion is one of the most powerful tools we have to change the world. Stick with me and I’ll tell you why…
Allow me to tell you the story of Palden Gyatso:
He was a Tibetan Buddhist monk who got arrested during one of the many Chinese invasions of Tibet in the late 50’s. He spent over 30 years in Chinese prisons and labor camps surviving torture and starvation,serving the longest time any Tibetan served before in China. Shortly after his release in 1992, he left in exile to India where he met the Dalai Lama, who asked him what he had feared the most during his years of captivity. Palden answered that he did not fear losing his life - but losing his compassion, his willingness and ability to forgive. And that only forgiveness and compassion enabled him to survive.
Well, I guess it is not so hard to see why he is known as “the Buddha of Compassion”!!
When we hear the word “compassion” it is very common to associate it with “kindness” - with doing something good for others. In that sense, we are all at some level, compassionate beings. And that holds true. According to the Dalai Lama there are two types of compassion.
The first is biological, that is, part of our instinct, is what leads mothers to care for their children, for example.The second type is that which uses human intelligence to expand the feeling of biological order. That is when the practice of compassion comes in.
The meaning of compassion has been extensively debated between philosophers, psychiatrists, religious figures and even scientists. While they all interpret ‘compassion’ in their own unique ways, there is a common ground between them: the connection of compassion with pain and suffering. On that account,we can understand compassion as the feeling that recognizes pain and suffering and looks for ways to reduce or eliminate them. In the Tibetan Buddhism teachings of compassion, you learn that all actions are done through compassion. It is our natural state. If I fix myself up in my chair while writing this piece, it is because I am somehow trying to avoid the suffering of discomfort or perhaps a numb leg. Thus, the practice of compassion comes to put an end to the idea that there is anything that happens outside the scope of compassion.
It definitely gives us an interesting perspective, huh?! It is as if the practice of compassion can give us these brand new pairs of eyes that look with tenderness and care in all directions. They do not select to whom the care and kindness will be directed to, they simply point out to whomever might be in need of refuge and help. The practice of compassion aims to blur these artificial borders between “us” and “them”. Once our eyes have practiced this true sight, we are able to extend the care we give to our loved ones, to the next person. From the next person, to those who are the perpetrators of pain and suffering, too. Considering that, when Palden Gyatso said he owed his survival to compassion, it was because he had this deep understanding that those who were harming him were doing from a place of ignorance: they could then use his forgiveness more than his rage. When we start looking around with impartial eyes, we can finally look at a mighty person and still see someone who is loved by someone else, someone who laughs, cries and suffers, just like we do. These similarities are essential for the practice because compassionate relationships are always between equals!
Now, hold on to that thought and follow me a little further down the rabbit hole…
There are two paths to be mindful of, so not go down to: The Pity Party & The Big Emotional Empath - or a combination of both!
While empathy is often used interchangeably with compassion, they are not at all the same.
Empathy is the first step to compassion. We must be able to see and recognize pain around us in order to then offer help. However, once we park our wagons on the Big Emotional Empath station, then we are just sitting there suffering together with them. No growth comes from pain and suffering alone. When in compassion, there is action! We understand that suffering is constructed and thus can be deconstructed.
The Pity Party can be even more damaging to the practice of compassion. It goes against the essence of compassion as a relationship between equals. When we pity someone we automatically establish an underlying idea of hierarchy
“oh, this poor, indefensive person who so desperately needs my help and me, at the heights of my benevolence, will then offer my help and save the world.” *eye roll*
It is important we are at the same level of those whom we are intending our compassion to. It is the only way to make it work.
Despite ‘empathy’ being necessary for the practice of compassion - if not moved on from and, if combined with ‘pity’ , they create a catastrophic combo for the practice and development of compassion in our lives. It creates a glitch in time and space where the person (or situation) we are dealing with is frozen into the role of the victim; a place where things happen to them and not with and for them.
The idea when acting in compassion is that you simply show a solution that they did not see it before. You recognize everyone as a potential source of compassion “She,who needs my help today, can too help herself and others tomorrow.”
In short, acting in compassion is holding space. Holding space for people to feel, for things to happen, for situations to unravel and specially, hold space for ourselves. We create connections through holding space. We allow people to tell us what they actually need instead of assuming it from an empathetic place. We allow growth to happen through the experiences being lived. We understand there is always a solution to minimize suffering. Always! Even in extreme cases of suffering like wars, hunger and homelessness.
Ironically, I see this best being done through the practice of self-compassion.
Coming from my personal experience of being a sensitive empath - it can be quite overwhelming to find yourself offering help to others when your cup is empty!
Here is when the practice of self-compassion comes as a self-care tool. A tool that teaches us that to be able to hold space for others, we need to first be able to do that for ourselves.
Scientifically speaking, there is no difference between self-compassion and compassion.So, you could be extremely self-judgmental but also have a super predisposition to help others.Does it sound familiar? Yeap, that’s usually us!
Many of us on a daily basis, feed a little monster that we have inside, with thoughts of unworthiness, harsh criticism, calling ourselves names, continuously punishing ourselves for old mistakes, etc.. But just like all things in the universe, there is a balance, a synergy between takers and givers. The practice of compassion can cut this little monster’s life line. This connects us with this synergy and creates a particular relationship with space - instead of trying to control it - freeing us from self-judgement and allowing us to hold space for others and ourselves. It is called the ‘readiness of compassion’. In doing so, when trouble comes we are at the most favourable condition to allow things to flow in the best possible way. In other words, to act compassionately.
The materialistic culture we live in these days intimidates us to believe that there is always something objective that can be done in extreme cases of suffering, when in reality most of the time, there is not. Can you bring a homeless person to your home? If yes, great, do it. If not, understand that whatever you can do to minimize that person’s suffering is good enough. As long as you do it.
You do good by giving out food to homeless people but that is not going to end world hunger. To act with compassion is to understand that we will not reap all the fruits of all the seeds that we sow in this lifetime.
We do the work as if we would but we let go of the results knowing that we may not.
To become a compassionate being is to become a space builder instead of a machine for solutions. A space builder for ourselves first but also for yours’, mine and theirs'.
Take the opportunity to reflect on how you can become more compassionate and contribute to a better world for all of us. Hold space for yourself and others and sow good things & I'm sure your harvest will be very fruitful. :) <3
Moonchild Yas <3
How to simply cultivate compassion in your daily basis? The steps!
- SELF-COMPASSION; get used to extend to yourself the same kindness you do to others
- Empathy; train your eyes to identify needs around you
- Similarities; look for those in others, specially those you are not so fond of. The similarities are our glue.
- No judgment - observe people’s needs without judging. Judgement leads to pity.
- Tolerance; the practice of compassion is in itself rewarding so no rewards should be expected. Be tolerant that not everyone that will be touched by your compassion will be grateful for it.
- Gratitude and Recognition; we are at all times being benefited by someone else’s work. For example, I don’t sew but I never left my home (unwillingly) naked. Recognise we are being helped all the time and be grateful for it.
Want to dive deeper?
Fire Under The Snow by Palden Gyatso
The altruism Revolution by Matthieu Ricard
A fearless heart by Thupten Jinpa
Series & Movies:
Fire Under The Snow
The Altruism Revolution
Songs & Meditation:
Deepak Chopra - Compassion
Dalai Lama - Inner World: Compassion
Leave a comment