In Buddhism, compassion is one of the Brahma Vihara or the four immeasurables. It is one of the noblest states of being human.
Compassion, karuṇā, in Sanskrit and Pali, is the desire to see someone free from suffering. The etymology of “compassion” is Latin, meaning “co-suffering. It’s an open-hearted experience of sharing another’s pain. It is a warm-hearted response to sometimes suffering and a desire to help.
Merriam Webster defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it”.
Have you felt this unconditional empathetic concern for another’s well being?
Perhaps, you have also felt it’s near enemy.
The near enemy of compassion is pity. We may think feeling bad for someone is kindness, but in fact, it sets up separation.
Another challenge facing one who practices compassion is compassion fatigue, which can lead to burnout or apathy. This usually happens when we are giving from an unsupported place, overgiving, lacking clear boundaries, and overall not caring for our own energy.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama
So how do we remain in a field of compassion?
First recognize where you are in your ability to hold others and yourself in a compassionate space. Here are two tests to evaluate your current ability:
Compassionate love for close others and humanity. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22, 629-651 Sprecher, S. & Fehr, B. (2005).
Self Compassion Scale . Development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2, 223-250. Neff, K. D. (2003).
Second is practice. Make it a part of your daily routine to sit in meditation and focus on yourself, on those you love, and on humanity as a whole – cultivating a deep desire for their freedom from suffering.
Third and perhaps most important is taking action. Where do you see suffering? What actions can you take to help relieve that suffering?
Finally, evaluate your progress. From time to time check-in with the tests above to evaluate your progress in building compassion.
Evidenced-Based Changes From Compassion Meditation
We can cultivate compassion through practice. Studies show that meditation training leads to enduring changes in brain function, even outside meditation sessions (Slagter et al., 2011). A pilot study indicated that compassionate mind training could lead to significant reductions in depression, anxiety, self-criticism, and shame (Gilbert and Procter, 2006). Another study suggested that compassion meditation may offer health-related benefits such as reduced immune and behavioral response to psychosocial stress (Pace et al., 2009, 2010)