Rediscovering Compassion



  1. sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

Compassion is a relatively new word in my everyday vocabulary and it's been a mighty fine addition. I had heard it tossed around before but never really saw how it could add value to my life. We often see compassion as something to be expressed toward others. While it is important to be kind towards the people we encounter, we should also aim to treat ourselves with that same love and kindness.

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” - Anonymous

A couple of years ago I was having a hard time and someone asked me, “Have you been compassionate toward yourself? Have you been understanding as to why you’re feeling the way you feel?”. Honestly, I don’t think I had EVER considered it. My usual pattern in life involved metaphorically beating myself up for all the times I didn’t feel “good”. I saw myself as a barrier to happiness and I disliked that aspect of myself. I was so keen to exterminate the blues from my life as soon as they arrived, that I never considered that maybe there was a reason for their presence and that sitting with and trying to understand these emotions wasn’t such a bad idea.

Now I say, the key to living a life of joy is compassion. Even in your darkest day, compassion cultivates the light in you. By understanding we give ourselves an opportunity to avoid judgement, which is where negative thoughts often derive from. We perceive someone/something or a situation in a certain way and our experience is then based on that perception. Compassion serves by allowing us to tap into that sense of peace that's always with us despite our emotions. If we can have love and understanding for ourselves or somebody that is acting in a way that we perceive as “incorrect” or “bad”, we might find that we don’t have the usual feeling of anger or frustration associated with the experience.  

An example: 

Situation: You’re driving along and the driver behind you honks their horn.

Experience 1: You make a judgement of the other driver; they are a rude person. You could also make a judgement of yourself; you are a bad driver. Now you’re feeling anger/frustration/annoyance. These feelings require a lot of energy and leave us feeling drained!

Experience 2: We can also view the same situation with compassion; maybe the other driver is anxious because they’re running late to a meeting, and you just happen to be driving the car in front. Perhaps now you have love for the driver, and maybe your driving skills aren’t the problem after all! 

Do you notice how much better the second experience of the same situation feels?

When I say “love” I don’t mean hugs, kisses, marriage and the likes. The love you have for others isn’t necessarily apparent from the outside, it’s something you feel within. We put love up on a pedestal, as if it has to look a certain way or that we can only give it to certain people in our lives. Why?! Are you afraid you’re going to run out or do it wrong? Love is all we’ve got to give! Trust me, it’s a lot easier to love than it is to hate. The most challenging thing is getting over the mental block that we often seem to have around expressing love; we shy away because it’s often considered “uncool” or “weak”.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” - Dalai Lama

At times it seems difficult to be kind to somebody when you feel that they’re being horrible to you; maybe you can try to see their way of action as a reflection of their current relationship with their situation. We ought to be compassionate toward ourselves so we can avoid judging our emotions, instead embracing and accepting that it’s all part of being human. We often get down on ourselves for feeling sad, which simply adds insult to injury. Our troubles aren’t there to be chased away; simply become aware of them, accept them, and you’ll find that they’ll disappear on their own. I recommend meditation as a great way to get started with this. With practice, you might even see that the troubles you once had weren’t even that big of a deal to begin with.

Oh, and remember; when in doubt - just love!

David Boland