Compassion is a sense of shared suffering, a feeling of empathy toward another individual in need combined with the desire to help. Let us remove any obstacles to opening our hearts and minds to others by remembering how to be compassionate, and by healing ourselves in the process.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
It’s important to begin with the notion that your compassion would be incomplete so long as it excludes yourself. So while you’re considering how to be compassionate, remember that the loving arms you extend to another inevitably reach back to embrace you.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson concludes: “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”
When we input more compassion into our lives, we awaken many positive reactions within ourselves and in our world. The benefits of being compassionate include:
- Experiencing less stress
- Becoming happier
- Being more supportive and optimistic in your relationships
- Feeling good, as pleasure circuits in the brain are activated
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Feeling less alone, and more deeply a part of a greater humanity
In order to spark compassion in us, we must understand what another person is going through.
Since we all are walking our own difficult path, we can each find common ground in the difficulties we face. This need not be negative, only a truth that can be illuminated–one that will connect us–through the compassion that grows from our similarities.
Compassion Is in the Pain
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” – Dalai Lama
Beautiful things do often come from the shadows. Compassion, for instance, is birthed from suffering.
It’s in the depths of or own darkness that we’re afforded the opportunity to understand another’s darkness. We’re granted access to another depth of love each time we work through our own suffering and decide to extend loving arms to the world.
Compassion is a seed of hope which is planted in the soil of suffering. Though suffering still exists in the world, we can choose to water this seed of hope in our hearts. We can close ourselves off from giving or receiving love, or we can wield compassion. In our service we shall also know healing.
“Compassion,” as Thich Nhat Hanh describes it, “is a verb.”
When we share our light through the vehicles of compassionate action, we elicit a breathtaking sense of connection. We connect with others. We connect with ourselves. We align with the higher vibrations of love and joy. The more we practice compassion, the better we get at it, and the more enjoyable, even, that it becomes.
Here are a few tried-and-true ideas on how to be compassionate beings in our day-to-day experiences.
How to Be Compassionate: 10 Ways to Love Deeper
“Compassionate people are geniuses in the art of living, more necessary to the dignity, security, and joy of humanity than the discoverers of knowledge.” – Albert Einstein
1. Unleash small acts of kindness.
Give tiny gifts of kindness to yourself, those you love, and those you do not know. Smile at a stranger. Give a compliment to a coworker. Remind your friend how grateful you are for their presence in your life. Lend an ear. Donate your time. Volunteer.
Try not to expect anything (even a “thank you”) in return.
2. Get into a “giving is receiving” mindset.
When we help another person, we’re in essence helping ourselves. Doing good for others opens the door for us to receive and experience happiness and peace in our own lives. Throw out your scarcity mindset (which dictates that there is not enough of X, Y or Z to go around) and replace it with a giving mindset.
There’s enough for us all to be taken care of.
3. Practice receptivity.
We all want to be heard and understood–to be received. Practice attentive listening, which means to listen without planning a response and to give your undivided attention to the speaker.
Remember that being receptive to others’ thoughts and feelings doesn’t have to mean we agree with their viewpoint or absorb their problems. We’re merely honoring their experiences.
4. Focus on your similarities.
Imagine their suffering is your suffering. Would you not wish for that pain to end? How happy would you be if your suffering lightened?
We all crave recognition, affection, love, happiness, and peace. We all wish to avoid suffering, despair, loneliness, and heartache.
When we recognize our similarities with others (even if that’s the last thing we want to do) we re-frame the situation and create a bond that would relieve suffering: theirs and yours.
5. Widen your lens.
Adopt a wider perspective. Life is so much more than our disagreements and suffering. Zoom out and realize how small we might look from space. Not only are we all similar in more ways than we are different, but we’re all under one great sky, living in one amazing universe.
When we remember there is more to a person than their current suffering, we can identify with their true nature and thus bring forth that truth into the current situation… just by remembering it.
6. Pause before you react.
By pausing our immediate gut reaction, we can respond to the emotions of that person rather than their words. Angry and spiteful words are often daggers thrown from a place of fear and hurt. By stepping back, we can break the anger loop and better grasp the bigger picture.
It’s quite difficult to send compassion in the direction of our wrongdoers and enemies. Forgiveness is a process and it takes time, but it’s a soothing balm for your own suffering. Forgiveness is the ultimate altruistic gift, and you’re the recipient of that gift. Remember this: Hurtful acts are less about the person they’re directed at, and more about what that person is going through.
8. Offer up a toast.
Raise your glass to the sky and offer up a blessing into the world. Imagine positive energy radiating through your body, enveloping your body and extending into the space around you. Next, picture this loving energy extending beyond yourself and to those around you whom you love. Do this often and it will become easier to imagine the rays of compassion extending to those you do not know.
The idea behind this practice is that you’re wishing yourself well and expanding that compassion to a wider and wider circle of people.
9. Practice loving kindness meditation.
Research concludes that meditation produces beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing. Here’s an example of a loving-kindness meditation courtesy of Steven Smith at The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society:
May I be free from inner and outer harm and danger. May I be safe and protected.
May I be free of mental suffering or distress.
May I be happy.
May I be free of physical pain and suffering.
May I be healthy and strong.
May I be able to live in this world happily, peacefully, joyfully, with ease.
Continue the practice by repeating this several times to yourself. You then change the language to be directed toward another. For example, “May she be happy.” This practice can help you extend compassion from those you already love to neutral and even difficult people you meet.
10. Open to new ways of thinking.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities,” Shunryu Suzuki said, “but in the expert’s mind there are few.”
Leave room in your mind for new ideas and ways of thinking to enter. We’re all learning, though we may not walk the same paths at the same time. When you cross paths with another and the meeting is lacking in love, you have a choice: Choose anger or choose compassion; choose judgment or choose compassion.
By choosing love in day-to-day encounters (when the immediate response is to be angry or judgmental or cold) you reorganize your brain to think and respond in new ways.
- How do you practice compassion?
- What aspect(s) of compassion (such as patience, forgiveness, or self-love) have you struggled with or are you working through currently?
- How has your own suffering opened you, softened you, or led you to share your light?
Please share your thoughts, lessons, and your own stories of compassion in the comments.
Share this post with someone you care about.
Let your compassion be your positive contribution to the world.