Compassion is an essential tool for your self-growth and kindness toolbox. Expanding your compassion will help you to be genuinely kind – without all the baggage. Sometimes we think we’re being compassionate, but as we help others our generosity can be tinged with pity, judgement and expectations. Cultivating deep compassion means letting go of all that stuff. It means extending love for other beings, unconditionally.
Let’s start where we are, within our own selves. Compassion for yourself can be both the easiest and the hardest thing, at once. Gotta love paradox.
First of all, having compassion for yourself and your own experience is easy because you are the one you know best. You are also the only one who knows your full story, in detail. You know the “ins” and “outs” of how you got here and why you made the choices you did. You know your own suffering. Feeling into that story can bring a flood of compassion to the forefront.
We are conditioned to continually question ourselves. You might doubt your past decisions, berate yourself for poor choices or even distrust your ability to live your life. That inner critic voice can shout pretty loud. It often drowns out the compassion we yearn to extend to ourselves.
To begin to expand your self-compassion, practice looking at yourself like you would a beloved child or your animal companion. See your innocence and goodness. Hold yourself in your heart space, in meditation or when you’re falling asleep at night. Acknowledge the inner critic when it arises, but don’t let it run the show.
The next step is to cultivate compassion for your loved ones. Again – both easy and challenging. It’s easy because these are the beings you choose to share life with and they are there for you. The challenge is that the ones we know best can also get on our nerves. Chances are this effect is heightened by the pandemic and living in close quarters with your immediate family. With our longtime friends and family of origin, things can be, well, complicated.
Expanding your compassion for loved ones involves seeing them deeply with the eyes of love. Think about the kindness they offer the world. Tap into the reasons you chose them or the support they’ve offered to you during your relationship. As you did with yourself, think of them as the innocent child they once were.
Even the most difficult people often have places in their life where they’re giving. My husband’s father was an alcoholic. He was hard to get along with, particularly for his own kids. In his second career he became an environmental activist. It was so healing for my husband to witness his Dad devoting his time and passion to saving the rivers in our state. Having compassion for someone doesn’t mean you approve of all their choices, but it does allow you to see them from a new, broader perspective.
Which brings us to the next category: compassion for people you don’t agree with or like. In our current political climate this can feel like a doozy. How can you have compassion for those you see as ethically and morally corrupt? Here’s a shift of perspective that might help: think of those you disagree with not as wrong or evil, but rather as ignorant. They are making choices based on what they were taught over the course of their lives. They may not have yet encountered the information or experience that will awaken them to a broader perspective.
To go even deeper with this, you can imagine the ways that the “other side” of any given divide perceive you. Your own beliefs are formed from a limited perspective, too. There are ways in which you, too, are ignorant of the things you might learn or experience in the future as you grow. Allowing others the space to grow involves having compassion for their current situation. Again, you’re not condoning their behavior or choices. You’re simply bringing in compassion for their current experience of life.
The final category to consider is compassion for all beings. If you’re an empath, going here can be easy but overwhelming. The world contains a whole lot of suffering. At the basic level of the material world, destruction is essential to life. Life, death and rebirth are part of the entirety of life on planet Earth. Can you find the space within your heart to hold compassion for all of that? Take it slow. Send unconditional love to all beings.
Now let it circle back around, holding compassion for yourself as you do this intense work. Tuck your newfound compassion skills into your toolbox. You can bring them out anytime you find yourself stressed, irritated or overwhelmed. Bringing compassion to challenging situations will help you feel better, but will also benefit those around you. As we all begin to practice compassion it will ripple outward to all the beings of the world.