Compassion Begins With You: How Do I Show Myself Compassion? (Part 2 of 2)

This portion of our talk goes deeper into the psychological and spiritual ways in which we can show ourselves compassion.

“Go back and take care of yourself. Your body needs you, your feelings need you, your perceptions need you. Your suffering needs you to acknowledge it. Go home and be there for all these things.”

- Thich Nhat Hanh

Compassion for ourselves means that we follow Thich That Hanh’s admonition to take the time out of our busy lives to properly care for ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually. Let's reflect once again on just what that means.

In part one of this two part essay, we discussed how taking time to care for ourselves physically through proper diet and exercise as an important aspect of self-compassion. We also discussed how taking proper physical care of ourselves can even have emotional and spiritual ramifications. Let's now go deeper into the psychological and spiritual ways in which we can show ourselves compassion.

As imperfect human beings we are all flawed. Our flaws have been honed and conditioned over years of living in a suffering world. If we are alive in the world we are in one way or another implicated in the world's suffering. We are subjected to suffering and we are, at times, the cause of suffering. Even those among us who have spent their lives seeking peace and trying to alleviate suffering in the world have made mistakes along the way.

Because of this difficult reality, we may in some ways feel emotionally impaired, handicapped by our past or current personal experiences. We may be experiencing deep feelings of guilt, or find ourselves trapped in a poor self image. We may feel psychologically or spiritually confused, disoriented by our own negatively skewed perceptions.

These types of adverse emotional afflictions cause us deep injury, fill us with the kind of anxieties that crowd out any space for true happiness. Thus, the quality of our life loses any sense of enlightened adventure and turns into nothing but long-suffering struggle. The good news is that it is within our means to remove these hindrances that have long prevented us from feeling whole, happy and complete. We can at any time “go back and take care of ourselves.”

We do so by taking a compassionate approach to our inner afflictions, by taking the time we need to confront the reality of our own pain and sorrow. We show ourselves the compassion we deserve by facing up to the reality of our suffering, forgiving others or ourselves if need be, and then opening up our hearts to the pain and suffering of others with a complete and discerning awareness. In this way, we learn to be compassionate to others through experiencing our own compassion. This is not a selfish act, this is a healing act.

In our modern world, where anger, resentment and a "get even" approach to life is common place, this may seem like quite a different perspective on the matter. Some may even suggest it is naive, unrealistic, somewhat unorthodox approach to life. A fool's method of spiritual practice. This notion of showing ourselves love and compassion, in order to lead to an unselfish compassion for others, means radically shifting a paradigm to which the world has been conditioned. It means changing our perspective, looking at ourselves and our lives in a new way. In the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “Compassion is the radicalism of our time”.

Just Stop!

At any time in our lives we can just stop! Just stop and change the way we choose to live our lives. A radical change of any kind requires us to take this kind of direct and assertive action. We can just stop the cycle of negativity and through our own self-compassion begin taking positive steps to heal and transform, change the way we think and live. It is not easy and it is not automatic, but it will never happen at all until we are ready to follow the loving council of spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, and simply “Be Here Now”!

Being here now means that we mindfully let go of the past and embrace who we are right here, right now, in this moment where we are all free to transform and begin anew. This is the ultimate act of compassion we can give ourselves. It is the compassion every single human being deserves, self-compassion. Through it, we can begin to heal ourselves and begin to truly understand the many ways in which we can show our compassion to others. You see, ultimately self-compassion is a very unselfish act.

Once again, we do so by acknowledging the reality of our own suffering and by acknowledging the reality of how we may have caused others to suffer. By honestly confronting the experience of our life’s journey and then forgiving ourselves and all others who might have shared in our personal suffering.

We show ourselves compassion when we wholeheartedly accept our own worthiness to be loved, cared for and accepted. We do so when we make right effort to engage in healthy self-healing, life-affirming practices. We do so when we take time to engage in the spiritual work that will open our hearts to ourselves and to others in a positive and compassionate way.

Self Compassion Is Unconditional Love.

Whatever our condition of suffering is, we have the innate ability to show ourselves unconditional love, our suffering can be alleviated and even healed through our willingness to not put conditions on how we love ourselves and others, this is the meaning of compassion. Seated meditation practice on a consistent basis is the most direct and profound method of achieving this undertaking. Taking your seat in regular meditation practice is an unfailing way to direct your attention inward and calmly abide with yourself and all that life has presented you. It compels you let go of the inner and outer distractions that keep you from focusing on the ultimate reality of who you really are.

Compassion Is A Dynamic Force.

Through consistent practice, negative emotions gradually dissolve and are soon replaced with our inherent positive self-healing ones. Self-compassion through consistent seated meditation practice makes us consciously aware of the congenital nature of compassion, which we soon realize is the very ground of our being. Becoming aware of our intuitive ability to feel compassion puts us in touch with who we really are as human beings. With that awareness, comes an understanding of how it is a dynamic force that emanates from within, and can be expressed in every aspect of our lives.

Now just stop and think; it all begins right here, right now, with you.

“Live with compassion.

Work with compassion.

Die with compassion.

Meditate with compassion.

Enjoy with compassion.

When problems come,

experience them with compassion.”

- Lama Zopa Rimpoche

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Sangha Without Borders is currently physically located in London, UK