What is compassion? I prefer this definition I found on the free online dictionary - "the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it". The latin roots of the word are COM, meaning TOGETHER, and PATI, meaning SUFFER - in essence, TOGETHER, WE SUFFER. I like this simple definition because it doesn't require action or the need to "do" something about the suffering we see. Sometimes being witness to it and holding the space for it is enough to insight the change we feel compelled to make. Rather than a standing point of pity that infers looking down on a person, compassion, to me, comes from acknowledging equal footing of "yes, we all suffer this together".
AHIMSA (AH-HIM-SA) is the first of the YAMAS of the Eight Limbs of Yoga (think of them as the outward moral codes). AHIMSA derives its meaning from its roots - A, meaning the opposite, and HIMSA, to strike - and is generally defined as non-violence or do no harm - NOT TO STRIKE. This applies to all forms of harm and not only to others but ourselves, as well, because they go hand in hand. Doing harm to someone else, does harm to yourself and doing harm to yourself, DOES harm to others. Every soul is part of the pool and every wave we make, echoes out into the universe of other waves. We try to be good to others, frequently, but in our trying forget to be good to ourselves and often end up doing harm to others, either consciously or unconsciously. WE ALL DO IT. TOGETHER, WE SUFFER, RIGHT?
Here's an example. There's this woman who worked at the office. She was often "the story" after the Holiday company party, despite being in a position where it would be expected that she know better. In fact, there was always some story about her and her so-called friends, were the best at telling them. It was assumed how she advanced her career as her work ethic, or lack thereof, was almost non-existent. She rarely answered the phone, returned calls or emails. She brought a high school cheerleader mentality of cliques to the office that brought the work ethic of the entire office down and unfortunately supported the male dominant thinking that women in the office were not necessarily there for their intelligence. In a position of power, if you did indeed do a good job worthy of notice, she wasn't there to support you but was sure to help you become a target for more scrutiny on your work ethic, knit-picking whatever minor detail that could be found. Towards the end of her employment at the office, her addictions to alcohol and drugs, frequent long lunch-hours for hair appointments and shopping, including her unexplained absences from the office were the joke of the entire office. It was hard to practice compassion for her. Pity with an air of righteousness, even disgust, even jealousy over the money, clothes and power she had, would be easier. She did harm.
Finally, the company included her and her department in a large layoff as part of a merger. Finally, she would be gone. Her last day was a mess. She stayed to the very last minute of the day despite all the other laid off employees leaving. She sent a company-wide disparaging email burning bridges that she had. She was visibly upset, bitter and even shaking in fear. She was holding on to every ounce left of her job for a company that clearly had no respect for her. It was sad to see another human being, even this one, be in such a state.
Why am I telling you this story? Weeks later, she is seen at a co-worker’s wedding. She has noticeable bruises all over her body. It turns out her husband beats her. The opposite of AHIMSA - not to strike. The drinking, the promiscuity, the fear to leave work on her last day - all had reasons now, reasons that beg compassion. I suspect, in her mind, she deserves it and acts out in life to prove it to herself.
You never know what drives another human being's behavior. For every harmful action, there's an equally harmful reason. As human beings, WE ALL HAVE THEM - harmful actions and harmful reasons. So, that nasty boss who puts you down, that guy on the subway who pushes past you, that car that cuts in front of you, that person taking their good old time in front of you in the grocery line while talking on their cell phone - they've all got their reasons, as do YOU for YOUR actions. Practicing compassion doesn't require condoning "bad" behavior and it also doesn't infer not doing something about it either. It merely recognizes that yes, together we suffer this human condition together.
Sometimes, it seems like “the world” doesn’t practice compassion towards us. When we are in the midst of the forest of life, frequently we don’t see the trees or roots of compassion underneath our very own feet. So how do we begin? How do we practice compassion?
I still navigate this terrain of humanity and my practice of compassion is... improving. I firmly believe that if we seek change, the best place from which to start is from within ourselves. Finding compassion for myself and making a game of finding from where, inside of me, my complaints and criticism resonate has been instrumental in my process. Holding space for my compassion and my complaints to resonate from the same place. Practicing compassion for myself - self-love - became the reason I started the team Love to the Power of 10 here on sparkpeople. teams.sparkpeople.com/LO
I offer these tips, with all humility, as they have helped me:
4. Notice and Breathe AGAIN
5. Hold the space for my feelings without judgement
6. Notice and Breathe AGAIN and AGAIN
7. Focus on something that makes me feel better
8. Breathe through my feel-better visualization
9. Do something simple for 10 minutes that is in my best interest [DO NO HARM] (knowing what this is seems like it is very difficult to figure out, but in most cases, it’s that pang-of-guilt feeling or deep-longing desire that makes it stand out to me) - or SHARE your experience to a trusting place
10. Realize that I am not alone in my experience - TOGETHER, WE SUFFER
How do you practice compassion in your life?