In American culture, the word compassion is a vague one with many implications. When taken back to its root, compassion means everything from pity to “to undergo with” to sympathy to “suffering with” to “feeling with.”
When I use the word compassion, it is in the Buddhist sense; wanting others to be free from suffering. The work of compassion is the work of extinguishing the suffering of all beings. Applied compassion is living in ways that helps the cessation of suffering to come about. Compassion is both a means, and an end in itself. Compassion, when it is held completely, encompasses self and other, and recognizes the fact that everyone wants to be free of suffering.
Cultivating compassion means growing the tools of compassion in your life. Some simple examples:
1. Someone is rude to you. Instead of getting mad, realize that person is in pain, and they are merely venting in your general direction. In recognizing that pain, you become able to feel it with them, instead of letting it land in you. This allows two important things to happen:
a. You have not taken the rudeness personally. In not taking the rudeness personally, you are more easily able to just let it go, instead of carrying that edge of pain – your own suffering – around with you.
b. In releasing your suffering, you are less likely to pass that suffering along to others.
2. Someone you love says something hurtful to you. Instead of reacting and getting angry, sad, or defensive, you recognize that your loved one is suffering. Without falling into pity (which creates its own negative responses), you can acknowledge (perhaps silently, in your own heart and mind) your loved one’s pain.
From this space, you can gracefully allow the sting of your loved one’s remark to pass. This also accomplishes two things;
a. It prevents further suffering on the part of your loved one, and;
b. It causes less suffering to you, because you have not attached yourself to the pain.
A key point to cultivating compassion is the realization that you are one of the countless beings pervading time and space, and therefore you are also deserving of compassion. This realization can release you into a state of graceful acceptance.
In the realization that you have the power to release your own suffering through compassionate means, you may move into a momentary state of non-attachment. When you cultivate compassion you are doing yourself and the world a good turn at the same time; you are releasing your own suffering, and by doing so you are allowing the suffering of all beings to decrease.
By non-attachment I do not mean a lack of engagement; quite the contrary. Non-attachment allows for total presence in the here and now. When you release attachment to what has been done to you, or how you should respond (past occurrences or future possibilities) you are able to come present in the moment as it truly is. You are not making up stories about why the person acted the way they did, you are simply recognizing the suffering in their experience.
How can you really know whether another is suffering or not? Well, maybe you can’t. But you can notice when your own pain arises. And instead of reacting by causing more pain, or holding onto that pain and turning it into sustained suffering, you can gracefully recognize your own suffering, feel it, and let it go.
Lasara Firefox Allen is an author, educator, activist, and coach. Lasara’s first book, the bestselling Sexy Witch (Llewellyn Worldwide), was published in 2005 under the name LaSara FireFox.