In the previous post we talked about emotional and mental hygiene and society. Did you miss it? Then click here to read this post.
Compassion and loving kindness can be the methods or tools to use to keep our emotional and mental hygiene in check.
In today’s post you’ll find more information on compassion, a step to step guide towards compassion, the difference between empathy and compassion and how too much empathy may lead to burn-out.
What is compassion?
From a scientific point of view, generosity is a sign of compassion.
There are three kinds of generosity;
1) supplying material needs, 2) being there for someone (comfort), 3) spiritual teaching.
Compassion is innate and natural Behavior
Several studies have been done, starting with children from 4-6 months old. It already shows that a child gives an innate preference to helping instead of not helping. Compassion is something that is innate and natural behavior for humans. In addition, being or connecting with others is something that can make you suffer less in the sense of being alone. It can be a buffer against feeling alone. Or it can be your mission to feel compassion. Fun fact, people with a mission live longer.
The Steps towards Compassion
So how do you become compassionate? Compassion is a process. Awareness is the key. Underneath will follow 4 steps towards compassion.
Step 1: Confrontation with the suffering of another
Imagine, something happens to a dear one. A person becomes ill, has a burn-out, gets an accident or something else that causes the other person to suffer.
The empathy in us then triggers an emotion. Maybe you also become sad, maybe you become angry with the ‘perpetrator’ and so on. It touches something in you, your emotion. Here you become part of your own empathy and emotion. This is the moment in which you have to become aware.
Step 2: Be aware of the signal
It is a signal for you, so you know what’s going on. Experience it. Now it is up to you whether you want to become part of that emotion and therefore go into passivity. After all, you can not help someone when you are in the emotion yourself. This makes you also victim and passive.
Empathy is an inward movement, into ourselves
Empathy is needed to foster a sense of worry or concern for the other, a piece of understanding, as well on an emotional level. Without this signal, compassion can not arise.
Step 3: Embrace the emotion
You understand the signal. You lovingly embrace your own feelings as a mother holding her child. It may be there. This is an essential step. Accept and see what you can learn from this ‘trigger’, ’emotion’ or ‘signal’.
Step 4: From empathy to compassion
Because you have welcomed your own feeling and took the lesson from it, you now have the choice to become the emotion or to go into action. If you choose action, and thus compassion, you decide to be there for that other person. You do not become part of your emotion by going inside yourself, but you make the outward movement and go into the action of helping the other. Because you have admitted your own emotion, but the emotion does not become you, you can be there for the other person out of compassion.
Compassion is a movement outward
Empathy is thus a part of yourself, you take yourself with you, you are part of your emotion. You also become stressed, for example, when the other you want to help is stressed. People who get a burn-out in helping professions for example, according to this theory, stay too long in their own empathy, or emotion, make themselves part of it. It is passive towards the other. Another reaction that people can get if they see too much suffering (for example in hospitals, war etcetera) is that they completely shut themselves off. In the long term this is not a beneficial survival mechanism.
Compassion is Proactive
Compassion is the coming into action, from understanding, but focused on the other. You do not take your own suffering with you. It will also not cost you the energy that it does if you make it part of your own suffering.
You can then act and help from a place without condemnation and with kindness. Compassion can bring action and solutions.
Maybe it sounds difficult to not become part of your own emotion. That is why meditation is so important. Meditation does not mean that your mind silences, that you have no thoughts anymore. Everyone has constant thoughts. It is a choice to participate in the thought flow or to look at it from a distance. That is what meditation is about. You can look at all your thoughts, as if you are looking at a traffic jam from your window, or as clouds drifting by. And even then, especially in the beginning, you become part of your thoughts. The trick is to be aware of it and every time you notice you were drifting off, go back to see the traffic jam of thoughts or those clouds that contain thoughts. With daily practice, you can work on this and you will get better at it. You will find that it makes you calmer, also in daily life, because you can be aware of thoughts and emotions and step out of them when you need to. You can see them and look at them from a distance.
I hope this post inspired you to start becoming aware of your own thoughts and emotions. Hopefully bringing you towards more compassion. In the next and last post I’ll tell you about the ulitmate compassion and ultimate love; compassion for your enemy. Also I’ll give you more tools to cultivate compassion in your daily life.
So stay tuned!
Om shanti, shanti, shanti
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