What is compassion? The word derives its meaning from the Latin root word, ’pati’ which means to suffer, and the Latin prefix ‘com’, which translates as with or together. “The connection of suffering with another person brings compassion beyond sympathy into the realm of empathy.” greatergood.berkeley.edu. In an article on the web (www.mindbodygreen.com.), physician and New York Times bestselling author, Dr. Lissa Rankin, MD, posits that there are several steps that we can take to cultivate compassion within ourselves and others. Considering the state of the world today, this practice is sorely needed if we, as a society, are to survive intact.
The first, and in some ways the most important step is to practice self-compassion. Our society has taught us to be our own worst enemy when it comes to making mistakes. “Most of us have harsh inner critics who judge us, put us down, and punish us…” Accepting yourself as is, imperfections and all, is the prerequisite for demonstrating compassion for others. It is the foundation, upon which this practice is built. In order to be truly compassionate towards others, “…you first have to [take care of] yourself. This kind of behavior is not selfish; it’s self-care.”
Another step along this path is to “…put yourself in someone else's shoes.” It is vital that we admit that we are all in the same boat and are doing the best that we can. Along with this, we must work to move beyond what is called self-referencing. You must be willing to look in the mirror and admit that it's not all about you. “Practice shifting your perspective away from exclusively thinking about how something affects you.”
The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying, ‘My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.’ But, the kindness that he is referring to is devoid of “… people-pleasing and approval-seeking.” Simply stated, being kind does not mean selling out your own principles in order to make someone else feel good. This can only lead to resentment over perceived sacrifice. “Whether you’re giving gifts, granting forgiveness, or bestowing love upon someone, true kindness blesses you as much as it does the one you're serving.”
Relax your judgments. This requires avoiding the labels of good and bad, right and wrong. Again, we need to take the perspective that all of us are doing the best we can. To be able to do this for others, we must first release our own self-judgments and self-deprecation.
For many people, listening involves making statements of your own beliefs without hearing what the other person has to say. While the other person is talking, we are formulating what we are going to say next instead of listening. Dr. Rankin suggests the practice of “…listen(ing) generously. We’re always interrupting, judging what someone says, or trying to fix.” Listening generously to people allows them to hear their own truth.
Self-healing is another prerequisite for helping others to heal. Matthew 7:5 “... First, remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother's eye.” Holding onto your unresolved trauma leads you open yourself to inadvertently traumatizing others. It is well documented that abused children, without intervention, grow up to be abusers. We all have baggage that needs to be dealt with before we can help someone else.
“Once we have done this, compassion [becomes] a natural by-product.”
And, last but not least, we must practice presence. “Avoid looking at your phone, multitasking, glancing at the TV behind your lunch date, or paying attention to anyone other than the one you’re with. Make eye contact. Notice body language. See if you can really feel what the other might be thinking beneath the words.” When you do these things, a true sense of caring is perceived by the one you're listening to and real communication takes place.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
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