The benefits of compassion can be experienced in all of our lives. Compassion, with the desire to relieve suffering, is a key element of heart-based support that can be applied to ourselves and others to assist with the authentic flourishing of life and self-realisation. Compassion is a natural instinct within us all, but is stifled when we lack mindfulness and are not present to life. This is why the practice of compassion results in numerous health benefits for the giver as well as the receiver of compassion. Compassion is ultimately the embodiment of the realisation that all life is one continuum, and that what benefits the authentic wellbeing of others also benefits ourselves. Compassion, along with the core foundation practice of mindfulness, is a key ingredient of authentic living, and one of the signature states of Inner Wellness.
What is Compassion?
Compassion is the practice of being present to the suffering of ourselves and others and responding from our heart with a desire to relieve this suffering with kindness, caring, and support. Mindfulness helps us to become aware of and to be present to the suffering by clearing our mind of reactivity and directing our attention onto the life before us that we often dissociate from. Mindfulness helps us to move beyond indifference and judgement, and helps us to meet another person or being in a space of shared life and interbeing, where compassion can unfold.
Understanding compassion requires that we understand what suffering means. We often define suffering as the experience of pain, distress and hardship. I am going to go further and define it as the state in which the flourishing of life and the self-realisation of the authentic self is blocked. My definition therefore incorporates normal pain, distress, and hardship, but includes the suffering that occurs when we are caught up in reactivity, dissociation, and inauthentic living. While we may not be consciously aware of our suffering when we are dissociated or trapped in the reactivity of the mind, it does prevent us from embodying our authentic self, which is necessary for true self-fulfilment.
This definition of suffering puts the ideas of the flourishing, freedom, and fulfilment of the self in the full context of authentic self-realisation, making it possible to extend our practice of compassion to include the desire to see a life relieved of suffering and able to become authentically self-realised. Understanding compassion in this way reveals that the ultimate expression of compassion is the desire to relieve the root cause of suffering—our separation from authentic being—and not merely the symptoms of this suffering that we know as pain, distress, and hardship.
Compassion, along with the foundation practice of mindfulness, is therefore a key tool for authentic living, and is an important means to relieve the suffering caused by inauthentic living. Clearly, compassion is not the same as empathy, love, or altruism, although it does actively express these qualities.
Compassion is important not only for meeting our needs of self-realisation and authentic living, but also for our survival and for sustainable living. It is an important factor in supporting each other in community and in supporting the ecology of the natural environment.
How to Practise Compassion
Compassion can be expressed as acts of kindness, caring, and support that relieve the suffering of others and ourselves. It is important to realise that compassion is a way of life or an attitude, which means that it can be practised as much in everyday living as it can with big gestures. This means that a smile or a kind word count as acts of compassion, and are the small seeds that when sown can make a big difference—especially if a whole culture is built upon small, easily practised acts of compassion.
The key thing is that the practice of compassion can only be authentic. We can actually be ‘kind’ and ‘generous’ to others for ulterior, selfish motives if we wanted to. However, with outer-directed compassion there is always an enlarged self-interest that incorporates the interests of others as if they were our own: it is a heart-based act. This means that compassion requires us to be present to others through mindfulness so that we can start to understand and feel the suffering that we may have a chance to help relieve.
Practising mindfulness with compassion means consciously directing your attention on your interaction with others or your self, in the present moment, and being present to any suffering that you become aware of. Then, as you feel this suffering, you can make a choice to help relieve it. Mindfulness also gives you the opportunity to become aware of how you close and open your heart to yourself and others.
It is a good idea to make compassion a daily practice. What we practise daily builds the momentum for it to become a positive habit. Daily practice also encourages us to be more integrative of our full experience, rather than reserving compassion for a few selected moments in our life, which only wastes the opportunities to be compassionate that are always before us. Compassion does not have to be reserved for people that we like or take pity on. It is an unconditional practice. Even the people that we find most challenging are human beings like us and experience suffering, and deliberate hurtful acts are always perpetrated out of suffering.
Compassion is an Expression of Self-Realisation
Compassion towards others becomes a natural social expression of self-realisation as life is valued more and our realisation of shared identity helps us to see each other as an extension of our self. Compassion towards self also becomes a natural inner expression of self-realisation as we find our inner centre, become fully present, and free ourselves from the reactivity of our mind.
The Benefits of Compassion
The benefits of compassion are now being studied and documented by researchers, with findings that show that practising compassion towards others improves our health and wellbeing more so than if we practised purely selfish acts—such as spending money on ourselves, for example. This reflects an important truth of authentic living: that living a life of narrow self-interest perpetuates the suffering of living because we are acting as if we are separate from the whole—our greater self. By cultivating and expressing compassion, we focus beyond our narrow, local self or ego, and open to a sense of enlarged or common identity that we discover through our authentic self.
Today, the world is in even more greater need of our compassion than ever before. However, the opportunities for expressing compassion are greater than ever before in history, not least because the Internet enables us to connect with each other globally and become more aware of the suffering that is happening in the world. Staying present to our feelings of wanting to relieve suffering, and allowing them to carry us forward into action is an important motivational force for authentic living, and is the reason why working in service to others and the natural environment is so rewarding. While we are not responsible for the lives of others, we are responsible for honouring the social, ecological, and spiritual whole that we are part of, which we can do through acts of kindness, caring, and support—making sure to balance our compassion for others with our compassion for ourselves, so that we do not, for instance, neglect ourselves when serving others.
Here are 9 powerful benefits of compassion:
- Compassion reduces suffering and contributes to the wellbeing of the whole, making the world a better place.
- Compassion opens your heart.
- Compassion enlarges your perspective and identity as you discover your commonality with others, realising that, just like you, they experience suffering.
- Compassion increases your happiness, fulfilment, and wellbeing.
- Compassion enables you to become better connected, improving your social, ecological, and spiritual relationships, and inspiring loyalty and commitment in your regular relationships.
- Compassion improves your health by strengthening your immune system, normalising your blood pressure, lowering your stress and depression, improving your physical recovery from illness, and even extending your life.
- Compassion enables you to understand yourself and others more as you seek to relieve suffering.
- Compassion increases the possibilities for peace and reconciliation where there is conflict.
- Compassion is contagious and spreads outwards, inspiring further acts of compassion and kindness when witnessed and experienced.
Enrich your Life with MORE Compassion
Compassion is one of the signature states of Inner Wellness. Being present to others and yourself from your compassionate heart requires you to release your inner blocks and develop a strong centre of presence in your true nature. Want some help doing this? Take an important step to greater compassion and Inner Wellness by booking your Free Inner Wellness Session with me. It’s time to open your compassionate heart!
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The Lost Secret of Compassion
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