The Importance of Compassion
At a recent workshop I was at, the topic of compassion was discussed. It is a concept that I believe is important for many reasons so I will explore it here.
What is Compassion?
I think that these definitions fall a bit short and also omit two important elements often associated with compassion, namely: an element of loving kindness and a desire to help.
Compassion is sometimes mistakenly considered to be the same as empathy. Empathy refers more to the ability to take the perspective of another person and to some extent feel the same emotions. Interestingly, neuroscience experiments 1 have looked at pointed to some differences in brain activity between people practising empathy and those practising compassion. In addition, those practising empathy were shown to have a tendency toward 'empathetic distress' where the focus included: their own emotional state; experiences of negativity and stress; burnout and non-social behaviour. On the other hand, those practising compassion were focussed on other's emotions; feeling positive feelings for example love; good health; and social behaviour.
One way in which the difference can be summarised is that unlike empathy, compassion is feeling for and not feeling with the other. Empathy as a starting point for healing can be ineffective and I have referred to it in a previous article where I describe the idea of 'connecting without sticking' i.e. avoiding becoming 'stuck' in empathy.
Some Physiological Benefits of Compassion
Other research supports the mental and physical benefits of compassion. Some scientists have speculated that there may be an evolutionary purpose to being compassionate. When we feel compassion our heart rate slows, we secrete oxytocin--a hormone linked to relationship building and generosity--and regions of the brain linked to pleasure are activated. All positive benefits supporting well-being.
It is conclusions like this that lend weight to the idea that when you are healing others and the planet you are also healing yourself. Compassion can be a driver to want to make the world a better place and in the process, you personally benefit.
This of course does not just take place on a physical level, but on an emotional and spiritual level too.
a feeling of wanting things to be much better than they are. it is a desire for more pleasure in the broadest sense of the word, for others and ourselves.
Very often we are self-critical and lack compassion for ourselves. This essentially is an act of self-abuse resulting in many effects from low self-esteem to physical illness. Compassion towards our self is a way to change such damaging behaviour. As Stewart writes:
Each time we alter our pattern of self-abuse, we claim a little more of that self love that is our birth right. And the more we treat ourselves with love, kindness and compassion, the more we add those qualities to the world.
And here we have a double whammy, based on the interconnectedness of everything: being compassionate to ourselves, also benefits others and the world around us.
From a Huna perspective, the Little Pink Booklet of Aloha provides some excellent ideas which can be used to practice compassion.
Another effective way to practice compassion is to develop a regular meditation practice and include a focus on compassion. There are many variations of compassion meditations originating from many different traditions. Here is a simple variation on the theme based on the Aloha Spirit approach.
1. Get Centered
2. Build a Wave of Love
Focus on someone that you love. Bring the person to mind (you may want to imagine a connection between you like a cord or light if that helps) and feel the feeling of love in your body and imagine it filling the other person as appropriate (e.g. be happy, be joyful, be peaceful, be loved).
Relax deeply into the feelings that accompany this process.
3. Compassion for Other People
You can then repeat the process for other people. This can be other people you know, people you have not met and even people who you do not personally like.
4. Compassion for Nature
5. Compassion for Events and Circumstances
6. Compassion for Self
I start by focussing on love in general as that seems to be an easier starting point.
Some or all the elements can be included. Blanket compassion is a great catch all meditation in it’s own right.
Some variations of compassion meditation, focus on the suffering aspect e.g I want X’s suffering to stop. I find that it is more powerful if you focus positively on what you want for that person or situation rather than what it is now. Focussing on the suffering also risks tipping into empathy rather than positive compassion.
Some people find it easier to start with feeling compassion for others rather than themselves, hence the order of steps above - although any order will work. Some people find it easier initially to see an image of themselves and work with that. Over time it becomes easier to be fully embodied when focussing on compassion for yourself.
Trust and confidence in the process is important.
Regular practice develops the habit of volitional compassion in the Ku. It can be practiced with or without formal meditation.
Pete Dalton ©2018
Pete Dalton is an Alakai of Huna International living in the UK. For more information on his work visit his website www.urbanhuna.org