Compassion: Beyond Self, Through Self
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He/she experiences him/herself, his/her thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his/her consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty” - Albert Einstein
Compassion might be explored as the ability to experience another’s reality and form meaningful contact with them in that reality. This active seeking to share and acting in an experience is what separates compassion from empathy - which is simply the ability to feel another’s emotional world. Compassion therefore is ultimately bound by several crucial factors, namely how well we know ourselves and our boundaries, how deeply we can listen to others and how able we are to share an experience with another - be that joyous or painful.
Knowing oneself is a tender mix of having confidence in ones sense of judgement or ability to trust and accepting ones shadow - the stuff we don’t like to look at and routinely avoid sharing or talk about. The extent to which one engages in shadow work (or integrative development through any means of deep spiritual practice and psychotherapy) plays a large part in helping them determine what a felt sensation is and where it’s coming from. This is vitally important if you are to give from your true self.
Deep listening goes far beyond listening with your ears. It’s about body language, emotions, felt sensations and subtle inflections in words/glances. It’s in the twitch when a word is spoken, the tightness of ones throat, the intensity of a stare. Deep listening is the ability to release ones own needs in complete service of another. To hold space for the other’s world to be most relevant at that time. The deeper one knows who they are, the better they’ll be able to separate out what it is they wish to share and what it is another wants to share. Deep listening is a core tenet of compassion. We can all practice this for free.
Finally, there’s the ability to share an experience with another, be that joyous or painful. This is a funky one - for if we do not know ourselves well, and we’re not all that sure about what’s being communicated, we could get very lost indeed. The ability to share an experience with another is heavy reliant on ones own connection with self. For a connection to be meaningful is for it to be honest - for it to be honest, a person must accept themselves fully; gems and shit. This work is rooted in knowing oneself. Through knowing ourselves, we can better honour others - as we’re better able to offer our more comprehensive selves to another. We can do this because we get better at realising what things we can and can’t help with. This discernment is crucial.
We can practice compassion in the everyday, simply taking time out of our self-space and instead looking into others. Be that through giving someone undivided attention when you’re with them, cooking someone their favourite meal, holding someone close when they’re upset. These are all ‘fingers pointing at the moon’ as we explored yesterday.