• 11th November, 2021
  • by Nandini Hemnani

Truly Compassionate

The true meaning of compassion is to recognize the suffering of others and then take action to help. Compassion embodies a tangible expression of love for those who are suffering.

Merriam-Webster mentions a "desire to alleviate" the distress of others, whereas the New Oxford American dictionary simply refers to the broad sympathetic feelings associated with compassion.

Empathy and compassion stem from the same desires -- to better relate and understand others’ experiences. Both are hugely beneficial to individuals and companies. Compassion is different from empathy as it is an ability to relate to another person's pain as if it's your own. The component of action is what separates compassion from empathy, sympathy, pity, concern, condolence, sensitivity, tenderness, commiseration, or any other compassion synonym. Compassion and empathy are fundamental aspects of quality relationships as they enable kind and loving behaviour. Compassion may have ensured our survival because of its tremendous benefits for both physical and mental health and overall well-being.

Research suggests that connecting with others in a meaningful way helps us enjoy better mental and physical health and speeds up recovery from disease; furthermore, research by Stephanie Brown, at Stony Brook University, and Sara Konrath, at the University of Michigan, has shown that it may even lengthen our life spans.

COVID-19 has triggered enormous displays of pro-social behaviour with neighbours coming to the aid of those isolated by the containment efforts and of support for front-line workers, including doctors, nurses, and other health-care personnel, whose responsibilities keep them at risk of infection. In the public conversation about this pandemic, an admirable empathy has been evident for those who have been affected and for those who have died from COVID-19.

Surely this moment calls for careful reflection and a reinvestment in compassion as a foundational approach to health. Calling attention to compassion in this way is not sentimental. It is pointing out a tangible good, without which health for all is impossible. In a sense, COVID-19 has shown us that a healthy person and a healthy world are the same. And healthy people and a healthy world are both strengthened immeasurably by having compassion at the heart of health. 

Although compassion appears to be a naturally evolved instinct, it sometimes helps to receive some training. Several studies have now shown that a variety of compassion and “loving-kindness” meditation practices, mostly derived out of traditional Buddhist practices, may help cultivate compassion.

But how do we cultivate compassion in everyday life? Here are a few ways:

  1. Begin by practicing self-compassion. Most of us have harsh inner critics that criticise, denigrate, and punish us when we make mistakes. You'll find it difficult to be compassionate with others when they exhibit their humanity if you have an inner general berating, you for your inevitable flaws.
  2. Put yourself in another person's shoes. Life is difficult, but we're all doing our best. "Be kind, for everyone you meet is waging a hard struggle," as the saying says.
  3. Eliminate your self-referential language. Many of us are taught the "It's all about me" mentality from the time we are children. However, we are all one. Shift your focus away from how something impacts you and toward how it affects others.
  4. Let go of your dualistic judgments. What if we could just let go of our dualistic judgments that label everything as "right" or "wrong," "good" or "bad?" What if we could just accept that life is difficult and that everyone is doing their best? Letting go of self-judgments is the first step toward letting go of other people's judgments.
  5. Heal your own trauma—If you don't heal your own trauma, you'll unintentionally traumatise others. Inner unrest tends to inflict outside turmoil, just as the abused child often grows up to be the abuser. If you require profound inner healing, seek the assistance of a trained therapist, who can assist you in achieving your goals.
  6. Practice being fully present with everyone you meet. Avoid looking at your phone, multitasking, staring at the TV behind your lunch date, or paying attention to anyone besides the person with whom you're having lunch. Make eye contact with the other person. Take note of your body language. Examine whether you can truly sense what the other is thinking beneath the words. When you're fully there, you're more likely to be perceived as compassionate.

It's possible that the exercises aren't a good fit for you. If loving-kindness doesn't seem to be boosting your compassion, try writing about a moment when you felt compassion from someone, or a time when you had unexpected compassion for someone else. Compassionate Letter Writing is one of the examples of the same. You may refer to the following steps:

Step One: Think about something which makes you feel inadequate about yourself personally or professionally.

Step Two: Write a letter to yourself from the perspective of the compassionate ‘other’ that you developed, or from a ‘Narrator’ perspective.

Step Three: Feel the compassion as it soothes and comforts you. You can also read back on the writing at a later date.

The good news is that there are numerous contemplative practises to choose from that can assist you in being more present and non-judgmental.

It takes time to form new habits. Keep trying while being patient. One day, you might discover that you're more receptive to suffering and capable of dealing with it than you've ever been.

Do not use this website if you are in a life-threatening situation. Call your emergency services.