Something that we all have in common with each other is that we all would like to be free of suffering and experience happiness. In spite of these intentions and because of our ignorance, we create suffering in our lives.
Compassion is not pity. It is related to empathy but it is different to empathy. Empathy is when we “feel with” a person. We feel in our own bodies their emotional suffering. Empathy is an important facet of our connection with others, but if we stop just with empathy without moving forwards to compassion, two important things can happen. Continued exposure to the suffering of others and empathising, for example in the caring or health profession, can lead to burn out; it can make you sick, anxious and unhappy. Also, our actions become about making ourselves feel better, not so uncomfortable. In other words, our focus is on escaping our own suffering.
Through our sense of empathy we recognise the suffering of the other but we don’t stop there; we move forwards to compassion. We are able to consciously differentiate between ourselves and the other: “This is not my suffering; this is the suffering of another”. We “feel for” rather than “feel with” the other. Through compassion we are able to recognise their suffering but also regulate and contain our experience of it. This recognition of the suffering of another is coupled with a kind desire to help. It includes thoughts and actions aimed at relieving the suffering of the other. It is helped by mindful awareness of the other and our own thoughts and emotions as they arise.
Compassionate acts are altruistic. We don’t do it because of how we feel in any particular moment, or for what we might receive in return, but rather because we know it’s the correct humane thing to do.
The attitude of compassion is not complete unless you yourself are included. After all, you deserve compassion and love as much as anyone. Self-compassion is simply to treat yourself as well as you would treat a good friend.