Compassion and Self-Compassion: Empathy in Action

by dena on June 19, 2014

Welcome to this month’s installment on the topic of compassion. In January, I announced my intention to explore this territory with you at least once each month of this year.

Some of the posts have addressed ways to be more self-compassionate.            Bleeding hearts_Mt S_2014_4

Definitions, anyone?

Today, I went online as if opening an old and trusted library dictionary to scope out a basic meaning of the word, compassion.

  • The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines it this way: a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.
  • The Cambridge Online Dictionaries, similarly, states this: a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others and a wish to help them.
  • I like what is referred to as a literal translation in the June issue of “Live Happy” magazine, in a piece entitled Listening with Your Heart: to suffer together.
  • And, my favorite is: Empathy in action. This is a subtitle in the Listening with Your Heart article referenced above.

When Do You Recall Feeling Compassion?

You might think about times and situations when you recall feeling a deep compassion for someone’s circumstance. Can you make a quick list of 4 or 5 examples? This might include anything from noticing a toddler beginning to cry because she dropped her toy from a shopping cart and can’t reach it, to hearing of a dog that was abused, to being close to someone who just lost a family member.

Chances are, you are feeling some empathy/compassion as you reflect on a past moment when you felt it. Let yourself feel it now, in whatever way it is arising in you. Notice the qualities of the feelings.

Ask yourself if there is a part of you who wants to help in some way. Personally, I am a big believer in the power of prayer, whether or not I am moved to take action in some other way.

Sometimes,  it seems easier to notice or to access compassion toward others than toward ourselves. When I become aware that I am veering more in that direction, it is a signal for me to take stock of whether I am allowing myself to feel and express self-compassion.  I saw an inspirational quote yesterday that was credited to Johnny Depp. One interpretation I have of it is that it intersects with compassion and self-compassion. “People don’t cry because they are weak. It’s because they’ve been strong for too long.”                          newquote2.png

How Do I Have Empathy-in-Action for Myself?

Two friends and I started having regular phone meetings a couple years ago. We take turns talking about the essence of what is going on in our lives. Each of us is open with the others about owning uncomfortable habits or patterns we want to change, and we are open in our emotional expression.  We ask the others to help hold the space for the current intentions and goals  we are addressing.

When we talked last week, I was experiencing a fair amount of misery (back injury and upset with myself for negative ways I realized I was interacting with someone I love).  One friend posed a question: Can you hold a space of Compassion for your whole person (the part who is referring to herself as “mean” along with the loving part)? Moments later, the other friend made reference to what we might think of as an inner child. “Sounds like Little Dena needs something, and maybe she has for a long time.”

Their insightful remarks helped point me in the direction of self-compassion, which was something I had not paid attention to in recent days. Certainly, their compassion toward me was a strong support, as well. My whole attitude shifted. I was able to feel compassion for my whole person.

How about You?

What helps you access compassion and self-compassion in your life? Can you think of a different way to let your heart offer more compassion to you?

Blissings, Dena

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