My thanks to Albert the Urban Monk,Wade of The Middle Way, and Kenton of Zen-Inspired Self Development for initiating this group writing project on the topic of compassion. Albert, thank you for the invitation! And my additional thanks to Alex of the Next 45 Years for tagging me for this project.

What is compassion?

Let’s say you twist your right ankle, and it hurts. You might elevate your foot, put some ice on your ankle, perhaps wrap a bandage around it. You might even take your ankle to the emergency room for an x-ray. You do this because it is your ankle. It is only one part of you that is physical matter, but it is still you.

You do not feel sorry for your ankle. There is no pity, no need to rescue the ankle that is less fortunate than the other. You treat your ankle kindly, but not because you are trying to be kind. There simply is a part of you that needs your care and attention, because it is in pain. Certainly, you are not taking care of your ankle out of a sense of charity. You know that your ankle has complete capacity to heal itself, given a little time and care. There is even an amount of selfishness involved. After all, without a healthy ankle, you are less able to go about your business.

True compassion begins when we see others and ourselves as limbs of the same spiritual organism. There is no separation of “us” and “them.” We are individual branches of the same tree, and if one limb is hurt, the whole organism is also hurt. Compassion forces us to act not because we wish to be kind or show charity. Compassion moves us into action because the pain of another hurts us, also. We are One. Through compassion, we cannot help but take care of another as we would take care of ourselves.

Compassion may manifest itself as giving assistance, but not necessarily so. Sometimes compassion means allowing others the dignity of their experience, as we ourselves would want to be allowed to learn our lessons in our own time, in our own way. We look at another human being and recognize: “This is also me. How would I treat myself in this situation?” Compassion can mean allowing someone to make a mistake without coming to their rescue. Compassion can mean holding the perspective that another is able to rise above their current circumstances out of their own strength and resourcefulness.

Compassion must not be confused with empathy. When we hurt our right ankle, we do not ask our left ankle to feel the same pain. Taking part in another’s pain does not alleviate their suffering, but only increases the amount of suffering in the world. Compassion is not about feeling for one another. It is about acting towards another as we would act towards ourselves.

Of course, the reverse is also true. Some of us are far kinder, more respectful, accepting and loving towards others than we are to ourselves. And then the question becomes “If I were my neighbor, how would I treat myself? Do I deserve less than my spouse, my child, my friend?”

Through compassion, the walls of separation between us evaporate. Through compassion, we are all equal aspects of the whole, each contributing to the overall state of well-being, or lack thereof. And there is one other aspect of compassion that is often overlooked. Compassion moves us into action to alleviate another’s suffering because the suffering is our own. But compassion also allows us to celebrate another’s joy and success as our own. It allows us to witness another’s healing, and know ourselves as healed. Compassion allows us to benefit from another’s spiritual growth and learning. Compassion eliminates all need for competition and jealousy. Compassion allows us to celebrate the Divine Spirit within all of humanity.

Blessings to all, and a Happy New Year!

Andrea

22 Comments

  • Hey Andi, been waiting for you to return to the blog world, and boom – you return in grand fashion with a beautiful post, and a contribution to our GWP, too! Thank you so much!

  • Andrea says:

    Albert, thanks for the “welcome back!” I took a bit of a break for the holidays, and your GWP was such an awesome inspiration for jumping back in. Of course, I missed out on the little discussion of what constitutes a “monk” on your blog … I would have definitely had a few things to say on that one!

    Thanks again for the Project, I’ve had fun perusing the various contributions today.

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • Tuan says:

    Hi Andrea,

    It’s a very nice post indeed, thanks for sharing. I agree with very much everything you said but I don’t agree about the Empathy part. When my right ankle hurts my whole being would feel that pain, including the left ankle. Empathy to me is the motivation for producing the compassionate act. Without empathy compassion becomes calculated and mind driven, compassion will then becomes righteous. Compassion must come from the heart otherwise it won’t be true – to yourself and to others. Happy new year!!!

  • Andrea,
    I particularly like this:

    True compassion begins when we see others and ourselves as limbs of the same spiritual organism. There is no separation of “us” and “them.”

    More than anything, I like that you’ve explained a distinction between empathy and compassion. Empathic energy is a difficult cross to bear — I personally struggle with maintaining and processing empathy, so this really spoke to me.

    Albert, thank you for originally inviting me to participate in your GWP — the timing of my own Holiday Blogging Vacation is my main excuse for missing out. I’ll be looking out for my next opportunity…

  • Berit says:

    What a wonderful subject to start with in this new year, Andrea! My experience is that unconditional love and compassion is the key of bringing Heaven to Earth! Sharing a poem I wrote some time agao!

    COMPASSION!
    … is behind all fear and control!
    … is the courage, the joy and the clarity in the depth of the delighted soul and the burning heart!
    … is in giving uninvited tender, kind and serene!
    … is the understanding in the Oneness in shining purity and Devine wisdom!
    … is the bliss and beauty in generosity!
    … is the river of abundance!
    … is the mirror of Divine patience and respect!
    … is the new born wrap in the weave of unconditional love!
    … is the recognition of I am that I am!
    … is the Creation!
    … is the beauty of Eternity!

    Happy New Year!

  • Walter says:

    I was reading a site at http://members.tripod.com/%7eparvati/ramdass.html and I kept being struck by the phrase UNBEARABLE compassion and I prayed/meditated on the thought and began to try to think of examples of unbearable compassion. I shortly later left the house to buy some food at a grocery store where I found the example I was looking for. A grown man about the age of 75 was getting into his truck and he was aiding and lifting his apparently Down Syndrome son (about age 30) to get into the truck. I imediately fealt and thought too many thoughts to express but I could see that there was certainly a lot of compassion right there.

  • […] for initiating this group writing project on the topic of compassion.  I also recommend The Empowered Soul blog for their writing on this […]

  • Thank you for this. There is much compassion in the writing of this. I agree the essence of compassion is non-duality. It goes beyond simply being with suffering (the etymology of the word) into being with someone’s entire being. Including one’s self.

    Very much in tune with the Loving Awareness entry – I’ve linked to you because of this.

  • Brenda Dumas says:

    I love love love the idea at the end of the article which indicates that just witnessing someone else’s healing allows healing within oneself. What a wonderful concept; I plan to put that one into practice.

  • Andrea says:

    Tuan – I’m not sure we need to feel another’s pain in order to move forward compassionately. It’s an interesting point – if I hurt my ankle, does my whole body really need to participate in the pain in order to do what it must to take care of the situation? Or can I not also acknowledge that most of me feels good, but there is a pain in my ankle that must be addressed? It’s not that we don’t acknowledge or even feel the pain – we do! But I also know lots of people who absolutely wallow in the misery of others (or, for that matter, their own) and consider this compassion. We can get lost in “feeling bad” for someone – it seems to me that there’s a fine line between acknowledging suffering in a way that moves us into action (no compassion without action, after all), and suffering in a sort of self-gratifying “look at how bad I feel for the world” sort of way. I’m honestly not sure where that fine line needs to be … your thoughts? It’s a really good point you bring up!

    Slade – it’s so interesting that you bring up the burden of empathy. Energetically sensitive people often struggle with “taking on” the emotions and “stuff” of others. I certainly have, too. I guess we’re back to the fine line I mentioned above – acknowledging suffering as being something we must address, even if the suffering is happening in another, and yet not becoming that suffering? Because in the end we’re looking to address AND transcend the suffering … I’m going to have to mull this over a bit more. I would love to hear your thoughts.

    Berit – thank you so much for sharing your beautiful poem.

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • Andrea says:

    Walter – I had to follow that link and check it out. “Unbearable compassion” is an interesting term. I think that, once we step outside the illusion of separation, compassion may indeed be overwhelming.

    Matthew – you put it so beautifully “the essence of compassion is non-duality” – perfect! Thank you for the link, also.

    Brenda – thank you for your comment! The last aspect of compassion really came to me in the writing of the article. It would stand to reason that, through non-duality, we not only experience another’s suffering, but also their healing. And so we heal and transcend together and inspire each other … I think of this as the “upside” of compassion (you know me, always look on the bright side!). We can celebrate each other, too!

  • Tuan says:

    Hi Andrea,

    Feeling bad for someone isn’t compassion, in my opinion, it is pure empathy. When empathy transforms into some action to heal I call it compassion. The fine line that separate Empathy and Compassion is fear, without fear Compassion kicks in naturally and that transformation is so quick that most of us don’t even know the different between Empathy and Compassion. Like the hurted ankle example: when we fear of being hurt, we often dwell in pain with little action (children does this). When there is no fear of pain we take care of the problem immediately. Compassion without empathy is most likely righteous eventhough it is a good action but it’s meaningless to you since you don’t feel anything.

  • Andrea says:

    Hi Tuan – thanks for clarifying your perspective! I agree that fear keeps us out of compassion … I’m still stuck on this idea that we need to “feel” someone else’s pain in order to act compassionately. I think there may be a perception beyond the mental or emotional that moves us into compassion – the experience of Oneness that happens when we connect to our Spirits. And at that level, pain isn’t really “felt.” I’m just not sure that we need to suffer along with others in order to act compassionately in a meaningful way. It seems like it would just incrase the amount of suffering in the world, doesn’t it? I really don’t know the answer yet … I think I’m going to have to look at empathy more closely!

    Thank you for adding your perspective, it has really inspired a whole new thought process for me.

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • […] at Loving Awareness. Krista at Lucid Amphibology. Karen Lynch at Live The Power. Andrea Hess at Empowered Soul. Waters at Waters: The Last Thing I Wanted To Give. Eric Grey at Deepest Health. Stephen Hopson at […]

  • […] at Loving Awareness. Krista at Lucid Amphibology. Karen Lynch at Live The Power. Andrea Hess at Empowered Soul. Waters at Waters: The Last Thing I Wanted To Give. Eric Grey at Deepest Health. Stephen Hopson at […]

  • Hi Andrea,

    Thanks for your entry into the GWP. I love your practical example at the start of your post using an Ankle to display compassion. Very creative. Thanks again.

    Peace,
    Wade
    http://themiddleway.net

  • […] at Loving Awareness. Krista at Lucid Amphibology. Karen Lynch at Live The Power. Andrea Hess at Empowered Soul. Waters at Waters: The Last Thing I Wanted To Give. Eric Grey at Deepest Health. Stephen Hopson at […]

  • […] andrea hess at empowered soul. […]

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