“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”– Albert Einstein
What wise words from a man of genius, to free oneself by offering compassion to others, to creatures, and to the natural world. So what exactly is compassion, and how can you feel the effects of freedom in your own life by practicing it?
Compassion can be defined as the conscious recognition and acknowledgement of another sentient being’s ability to feel pain, joy, love, sadness, grief, happiness or any other emotion or experience. (1) Being in tune with another’s emotional experience can broaden our awareness of the world around us, and lead to greater harmony in our lives and the lives of others. Keep reading to discover our five suggestions of ways to practice compassion in your daily life.
5. Perform a Random Act of Kindness
Performing kind and thoughtful acts that aren’t expected can have an exponential and contagious effect in alleviating suffering and brightening someone’s day. In fact, studies show that not only the people directly receiving a random act of kindness benefit, but that people observing a random act of kindness also benefit. A 2010 news article from UC San Diego reports on the study, “When people benefit from kindness they ‘pay it forward’ by helping others who were not originally involved, and this creates a cascade of cooperation that influences dozens more in a social network.” (2)
Put it in Practice: At least once a day, practice compassion by extending a random act of kindness. Try allowing someone with a child in tow ahead of you in the grocery line, smiling at a stranger, giving a compliment to someone you don’t know, or holding the door open for another.
Dedicating unpaid time and talent to a worthy organization or cause that is doing great work can not only broaden your horizons, it can also help to ease the burden that many nonprofits face, a lack of human resources.
Put it in Practice: Volunteer based on criteria. Think of a cause that’s near and dear to your heart as well as your current availability and location. Consider how interesting a project sounds or the need of the organization or cause. These days you can even volunteer on vacation! If you need assistance in finding a worthy cause, check out the website VolunteerMatch.org.
3. Employ Sympathy & Empathy
Sympathy is an awareness of and reaction to another’s suffering. Empathy is understanding and feeling another’s pain yourself. Both are noble ways to respond to another’s suffering, and both offer avenues to practice compassion.
Put it in Practice: Reflect on times in your life in which you experienced suffering. Perhaps it was after the loss of a loved one, or after hearing a medical diagnosis. Think about how you were able to get through the pain and hardship. Contemplate your family, friends, neighbors, or fellow human beings going through the same suffering that you experienced. Respond with compassion by lending an ear, joining a recovery group, and/or sending intentions or prayers for healing and peace.
2. Consider Commonalities
We are all human. Even if we don’t have the exact same experience as another and cannot respond empathetically, we can still consider the commonalities that exist within everyone in the human race. Compassion is a fruitful result of thinking about these commonalities.
Put it in Practice: We recommend using the 5-Step Commonalities practice, as quoted below, that originally appeared in Ode Magazine (now, The Optimist). (4)
- Step 1: “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
- Step 2: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
- Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.”
- Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.”
- Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”
1. Use Metta Meditation, or “Loving-Kindness” Meditation
‘Metta,’ often translated as ‘loving-kindness,’ is “altruistic attitude of love and friendliness as distinguished from mere amiability based on self-interest.” (4) Practicing compassion through Metta Meditation is a powerful tool that can cross time and space. When you start cultivating an understanding of the suffering of others, it can help you feel connected to others and peaceful in the midst of your own struggles. You realize that suffering is a universal experience, and this compassion meditation can help you become more patient and kind with all beings in the face of hard challenges.
Put it in Practice: Metta meditation is an active practice, where the practitioner cycles through various intentions for loved ones, friends, strangers, and even enemies. The practice can be performed anywhere and at anytime by consciously extending wishes of health, love, freedom from suffering, and peace to all sentient beings. Repeat the phrases below with the key words of “safety, happiness, health and peace” to practice a simple compassion meditation.
- I wish you safety.
- I wish you happiness.
- I wish you health.
- I wish you peace.
Continue the meditation by substituting “I” or “us” for “you” to increase the effectiveness of the meditation to create a compassionate state. (5)
This blog post was co-authored by Melanie Trivette, Anna Ferguson, and Becca Odom. For more information about the authors, click here.
Please note that these suggestions and tips are based on our opinions, and should not be considered medical advice. If you are seeking to treat a traumatic experience, please consult a licensed mental health professional before engaging in these tips. You can find a practitioner in your area at the National Association of Social Workers web site: www.helpstartshere.org
(1) Ferguson, Anna. “Practicing Compassion: A Highly Effective Technique for Happiness.” Vibrant Heart Yoga. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
(2) “‘Pay It Forward’ Pays Off.” ‘Pay It Forward’ Pays Off. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
(3) “WHY IT MATTERS.” Seeds of Compassion : Why It Matters. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
(4) “Contents.” Metta: The Philosophy and Practice of Universal Love. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.