What is Compassion? How to Cultivate Compassion in Your Everyday Life
In life, one of the few good things that we can really practice is having a sense of compassion. There are certain things that come naturally to some people and certain tendencies that can be difficult to change, but being more compassionate is something that you can actually work on.
One of the great things about compassion is that it not only helps others and helps the world around you, but it also can help you live a better, happier and more fulfilled life. So how do we cultivate more compassion? Well, it’s all about making it a part of your everyday life and truly introducing it into your routine.
Think about it, you wake up and brush your teeth every morning so that your teeth can be healthier. Why not wake up and practice compassion every morning so that your soul can be healthier as well. The good news is practicing compassion isn’t hard and it actually won’t be difficult to start introducing it into your daily routine.
However, before you get started with cultivating compassion in your everyday life, it is important to understand what compassion really is.
Simply put, compassion is a sense of shared suffering. It is typically an emotion that is combined with a desire to help reduce the suffering of another. When we have compassion for others, we want to heal their suffering as if it were our own. When we are more compassionate, we can enjoy some real emotional and spiritual benefits, we can feel a greater sense of purpose in our lives and we can feel happier, healthier and more balanced. We can feel less stressed and feel great self worth, not to mention you can really help others around you for whom you are feeling compassion towards.
All of these changes can happen, you just need to start cultivating compassion in your everyday life, and here’s how.
Start With Empathy
Empathy is a type of stepping stone towards compassion, so practicing empathy first can really help you cultivate compassion in your life. If you are able to feel empathetic towards another person, you are truly on your way. Unfortunately, most people, even if they think they are empathetic, are truly not. Empathy is not a fun thing to practice but over time, it can really change how you think about the world.
Here’s how to practice. Take a fictional situation, it can be made up or even a story on the news. Say it is a person suffering because they have lost everything from a flood. Imagine that this person suffering is someone very close to you. Someone you really, really care about. Imagine the pain they are going through as if it were real. Imagine all of their belongings gone, their photos and precious keepsakes carried away and their struggle to survive. Imagine their suffering in as much detail as possible.
The more you start to practice this in feeling empathetic towards those you love, the easier it will become to start being more empathetic to those you haven’t even met. It is OK to not feel overwhelming empathy or sympathy towards others, which is why you need to continue to practice.
Once you can master this feeling, then you should start to focus on your desire to relieve that suffering. To do this, imagine you are in the shoes of the individual suffering a terrible tragedy. Then imagine, someone you’ve met recently came up to you and truly wanted that suffering to end and did whatever they could to relieve that suffering. Imagine how grateful you would feel and how happy you would be. The more you can imagine these scenarios and practice these feelings, the more they will start to infiltrate into your life in little ways.
Engage in Random Acts of Kindness
Practicing and imagining compassion is only half the battle. You need to practice actually putting your thoughts into action. You can do this with small, random acts of kindness. These don’t have to be big things, they can be something as simple as a smile or a kind word.
Say you see a struggling mother at the grocery store trying to push her cart and handle three energetic children at the same time. Imagine you were that woman feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Going up to her and holding the door, smiling and telling her to have a nice day doesn’t take a lot of effort on your part, but it could be just the act of kindness that she needed to lift her spirits. It is something small, but it is a small way to practice compassion. Over time, these acts of kindness should become part of your daily routine, and then you will find yourself doing them without even thinking and therefore becoming more compassionate without effort.
Practice Compassion Towards Those Who Mistreat You
The true test on whether you are actually cultivating more compassion in your life is to start feeling compassionate for those who have mistreated you. While it can take some time, it is relatively simple to not want a nice stranger you meet on the street or someone you love to suffer. It is something entirely different to not want someone who has wronged you to suffer.
Next time you interact with someone who mistreats you, no matter what they do, do not engage in anger. Instead, retreat. Allow yourself to calm down and detach yourself from the situation. Think about the person who mistreated you and reflect on the situation. Try to imagine their background, even if it is only fictional. Think about what they may have been taught as a child, the things that could have happened to them to cause them to mistreat you or the bad day, week or month they have been going through.
If you can understand that their action was not about you, but was a way of exhibiting pain and suffering in their own life, and actually feel sorry for them and compassionate towards them then you have truly mastered the art of compassion. It is something that you can practice at a big level, such as a co-worker who yelled at you, or at a small level, such as the stranger who cut you off on the highway. Either way, it will help bring a new sense of compassion and understanding into your life.