Cultivating Compassion - Part 1

For the past couple of years, I’ve been studying the concept of compassion. I always thought of myself as a compassionate person. But then, maybe I wasn’t. Of course, I’ve always cared for others and tried to help. But did I do this all the time? With everyone? I looked inside and had trouble finding it. I had given myself the label “compassionate,” but was I walking the walk? This led me on a search to find out what compassion is. How to define it. At the most basic level, what is it to have compassion?

I’ve been through some tough things in my life. I have to admit I was hardened by these experiences. That hardening protected me, but starved my compassionate side. I think at the root level, the word “compassion” breaks down to “com-,” meaning “with” and “passion,” meaning “suffering”. You are “with suffering”, or with someone in their suffering. If you’re protecting yourself from continued suffering, you can’t be with someone in theirs. You’ll deflect it, run from it, make fun of it, hide.

Through yoga, meditation, therapy and other awareness practices, I’ve come to understand my reasons for hardening and the triggers that lead me to protect myself. It’s an ongoing process. It isn’t easy. Compassion has been a tricky one for me. Like gratitude, it’s something I thought you had or didn’t have. Turns out I had compassion sometimes and didn’t at others. When things made my wounded heart squirm deep down inside, I would lose it. Noticing the squirm woke me up to my reactions and allowed me, in time, to act with love and understanding that we’re all the same.

Now, if you’re a caregiver of any sort - professionally or personally - this practice of compassion needs to be aimed at yourself. All of us need to have compassion for ourselves, but caregivers especially. Also, compassion is not to be confused with co-dependence. You don’t need to feel someone’s pain or take it from them, you only need to be with them in their pain. Depending on your background, this is easier said than done.

Like gratitude, compassion isn’t a quality you possess, it’s a practice. Next week I’ll share with you the exercise we did in our annual Thanksgiving Day class to help us identify and study compassion for ourselves and turn it into a practice. Join me next week - same yogi time, same yogi channel.