The second phrase of my passion statement describes my intention to inspire compassion. In my first article, I wrote that inspire is: to exert an animating, enlivening influence on and also the idea of breathing into. What is this compassion that I believe is so vital to human meaning, purpose, and existence?
Until recently, the word compassion seemed to rarely occur in modern daily conversation. Perhaps this is because its origin is more within the religious context in which the faith wisdoms of the world have always used it comfortably. The common religious theme is an understanding of compassion as an awareness of the suffering of another and a desire to relieve it. In secular spirituality, this same idea applies through humanistic qualities such as: kindness, empathy, concern, caring, tenderness, consideration, gentleness, warmth. “Love in action” is often equated with compassion.
In Buddhism, compassion is considered as the highest form of motivation. When you are motivated to generate genuine compassion, you understand your own relationship with the struggles of life, with what I refer to as the “darkness” of human existence. In a previous article, I wrote that the darkness can be balanced with the light, just as compassion can lighten the reality of pain and suffering. People who are motivated to decrease the darkness created by their life challenges, that is, who are more open to show compassion for self, are genuinely more aware to show compassion for others. We know the relevance of this today with the focus on creating more respectful environments and relationships, free of bullying and the inequality of power struggles.
In his book, The Compassionate Mind, Paul Gilbert writes about compassionate attributes as those shown to self and others. He describes these as caring, being emotionally in tune with feelings and needs, the ability to be with difficult feelings, memories or situations, an empathic understanding of why and how thoughts and feelings are as they are, and an accepting orientation towards self and others. This accepting orientation is central to an understanding and expression of compassion.
Compassion is about acceptance – accepting thoughts, feelings and the existence of self and others AS IS. In my counselling work, I hear those who describe their desire to relieve the suffering they experience from life’s stressors. Our conversations include an exploration of how they will take full responsibility to develop this quality of acceptance for self, as it is only with self-acceptance that acceptance of the other can be fully expressed. Such a progression brings individuals, couples and families and inevitably, the world, to a place of contentment.
Movement away from self-criticism and the criticism of others describes the journey of compassion; to be felt by self and expressed to others is its destination. Practicing how to observe one’s body responses, thoughts, and feelings in a non-judgmental manner is a good beginning. When you notice and observe with a gentle curiosity, you approach your life challenges and stressors with optimism and hope. Learning how to be consciously aware and pay attention in the present moment without negative evaluation or judgment develops a healthy relationship with self and others. Creating a personal quietness of gentle, inner reflection is the pathway to compassion. My invitation for you to walk with me on this “inspire compassion path” is an open one and I encourage you to accept it.