What is it about compassion that can bring happiness into your life? What if I'm not by nature a very compassionate person, can compassion be cultivated?
As I mentioned last week, the dictionary defines compassion as a feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. Compassion is action oriented. It's bringing someone who is in need a meal, it's giving someone a ride, it's listening to someone going through a tough time, it's taking action to relieve someone's suffering in some way shape or form. We all at times practice compassion.
I consider compassion to be a spiritual practice. Developing and cultivating compassion is an integral part of my spiritual practice. It's been said that of all the world's various religions the one thing they all have in common is the emphasis on the practice of compassion. Compassion is service. Compassion is love. Compassion is kindness. Compassion makes us happier and healthier.
How compassionate do you consider yourself to be? In addition to practicing compassion for others, do you also practice self-compassion? How do we develop and cultivate compassion?
When I teach about compassion, I share three ways to cultivate compassion. I'll share one of these ways in this post and the remaining other two next week. The first way to develop and cultivate compassion is to focus on cultivating self-compassion.
In our American culture no one teaches us to tend to our own suffering. We help others, but a lot of the time neglect our own pain and suffering and how to care for ourselves. We beat ourselves up playing the woulda, coulda, shoulda game, engage in negative self-talk and keep plowing forward with our cup empty. So how do we exercise self-compassion?
What would I say to a close friend?
Imagine what you would say to a close friend who was experiencing the same thing you are in life. Typically, we are more compassionate, understanding, loving, kind and caring to a close friend than we are to ourselves. While we comfort a friend, with ourselves we typically engage in negative self-talk.
Be gentle and loving with yourself. Offer up the same care and words of support to yourself the same way that you would to a friend.
I am hurting, what can I do to help myself?
Acknowledge that you are hurting and give consideration to what you can do to help yourself...get extra rest, take a walk or a bubble bath, order out dinner, or accept the help of a loved one. Whatever you can do to relieve your suffering by taking extra special care of your own needs.
We often discount the importance of touch in comforting ourselves and relieving our pain and suffering. Give yourself a hug, ask for a hug, gently stroke your arm, or hold your hand the way you would for a loved one. Speaking kind and loving words to yourself while stroking your own arm or giving yourself a hug can be very soothing. Maybe tell yourself that even though this is hard that you will be okay, that you are enough, that you will be able to work through the challenge, etc.
Utilizing these techniques and offering yourself compassion is a key step to being able to extend compassion to others. Care for yourself during times of pain and suffering the way you would care for a loved one.
There are many benefits to high levels of self-compassion beyond happiness and wellness, it has been linked to less procrastination, less depression and more optimism. Also, people who exercise self-compassion are more likely to take ownership for their own mistakes.
I invite you to consider cultivating more self-compassion, it's an important key to happiness, wellness and healing.