Our own negative feelings, such as anger, hatred and jealousy, can prevent us showing our compassion. By understanding those feelings and how they affect us, we can release them and allow ourselves to be more compassionate.
Compassion can be compared to the sun; it is always there but sometimes it cannot shine through because of the clouds. The clouds are the negativity that hides our true nature of compassion.
Most people can remember a compassionate act. It may be an everyday situation or something that stands out as very special. Examples may be sitting holding the hand of a distressed relative or friend, or simply smiling and being positive. Reflecting on such acts helps us to identify the qualities of compassion that a person may express, such as patience, tolerance, generosity and calmness. By thinking about acts of compassion and the people that perform them, we can begin to get a sense of what compassion means and, with further reflection, how we have shown these same qualities ourselves.
We all use words in different ways to describe how we feel and what we mean, and the meaning can change in different settings. We need to come to some understanding of the word compassion, redefining it for ourselves. Compassion can mean simply kindness; it can mean patience, generosity, respect and understanding. Compassion is unconditional love.
Showing sympathy towards another person’s suffering is acknowledging their suffering, for example, ‘I am sorry that you have hurt yourself’. We recognize that they are injured or ill without really engaging at a feeling level.
Empathy is when we literally share a feeling with someone, we walk in their shoes, for example, ‘I feel really upset that you are so depressed about losing your job’. This can bring great comfort to the person we are empathizing with, but the comfort to them can be at our expense and leave us feeling emotionally drained or sad. If we identify too closely with them, it can also make it difficult for us to help them.
An expansion of empathy is a word called interpathy where we relate to another’s suffering although we may not understand why they are suffering. This may be because they are from a different culture or because their feelings may seem inappropriate given the situation, but we are curious, we try to understand.
Compassion is all these words — sympathy, empathy, interpathy – yet it is more and it is less. We acknowledge someone’s sorrow, we sense how they feel, we try to understand how it affects them, yet with compassion we do not become emotionally involved. We are engaged yet detached. We are standing back and looking on with kindness. By showing compassion in this way, it allows us to be compassionate without suffering from compassion fatigue or emotional burnout.
We can try changing this system in our subconscious. By analysing what is recorded in our subconscious, through different therapies, the results are not altogether satisfactory. There is always some traumatic event, or painful experience behind a fear which causes us to cling on to a negative habit. And although we can see and recognise our fears and anxieties, if we do not replace them with something better, with a more beneficial and healthier alternative, very often we will feel tempted to cling on to these old systems, even though they do not work and they make us unhappy. To eliminate certain things we have recorded in our subconscious, meditation and silence are the most effect non-violent methods. Another method is to try and change our beliefs with positive affirmations (thoughts) that strengthen our willpower, and thus introduce a new habit to replace the old one. It is vital not to repeat this affirmation mechanically, but to introduce it into the system of beliefs we hold, and act as if we already were what we express in this affirmation.