Perhaps the most universal of spiritual concepts, across all religions, is compassion; yet so few of us practice compassion in its truest sense. From the Latin “cum” and “pati” the words come together, meaning “to suffer with.”
When we are genuinely compassionate toward someone, we become willing to suffer with the person who is suffering. This is a much more demanding action than sympathy or pity. Compassion requires a subjective experience, whereby we commit ourselves to stepping into the skin of the other, seeing through their eyes, feeling what they feel, and walking the proverbial mile in their moccasins. This is hard to do! It requires:
- The conscious decision to override our instincts of self-protection.
- The willingness to temporarily suspend our own point of view for the sake of understanding and caring for the other.
- The live, awkward transition from comfortable and familiar objectivity to uncomfortable, unfamiliar subjectivity and its inherent vulnerability.
- The willingness to feel pain.
I am captivated and humbled by the four steps listed above, that came forward as I began to write. Theoretical compassion and experiential compassion are two different things. Practicing compassion is a life-long unveiling and a subject that is so rich, countless books about it have been written, yet it still boils down to a day-by-day, moment-by-moment, one-on-one commitment to courageously engage in vulnerability and kindness. Even the most committed of us have their blind spots in this regard, perhaps the biggest toward our very own selves. I know I do.