Most of us are far too hard on ourselves. We doubt our own worthiness. We talk to ourselves unkindly and often sacrifice our own well-being in order to “get things done.” Often we fear that if we stop criticizing ourselves we’ll cease to perform well.
Paradoxically, though, it’s people who lack self compassion who are more prone to stress and burnout, while self-compassionate individuals are more emotionally resilient, better able to face challenges, and overall more effective.
Self-compassion can be learned. It arises from developing four skills:
A couple of times people have contacted me saying that self-compassion is not possible. Both times they’ve quoted dictionary definitions that present compassion as something that’s inherently directed toward others. For example:
com·pas·sion n. Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. [Emphasis added]
And the etymology of compassion — “[to be] with suffering” — has also been cited as a reason for rejecting the notion of self-compassion, because that’s taken to suggest that we be with the suffering of others.
But it can be misleading to insist that the etymology of a word defines or exhausts its present meaning. Sure, com- means with and passion means suffering. … Read more »
“…an individual keeps pervading the first direction — as well as the second direction, the third, and the fourth — with an awareness imbued with compassion. Thus he keeps pervading above, below, and all around, everywhere and in every respect the all-encompassing cosmos with an awareness imbued with compassion: abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.”
I want to focus on the phrase, of the Buddha’s, “an awareness imbued with compassion,” because I think it’s rather important.
Here’s something you can try in your meditation. When I’m teaching, often at the beginning of a period of practice I’ll suggest that people become aware of the light, and space, and sound … Read more »
Yesterday I wrote about how the Buddha, when he was in agony after having been injured, kept the suffering of self-doubt at bay by lying down “with sympathy for all beings.”
The word for sympathy here is “anukampā,” which literally means “to tremble with” or “to vibrate with.” Taking the meaning of “to vibrate with” we could even understand anukampā as being “resonating” with others, or having empathy for them.
Anukampā is closely related to karunā, or compassion, although karunā is from a root meaning “to act,” and so it’s a more active and dynamic term, while anukampā is more receptive. When we have anukampā we’re receptive to the feelings of others. We’re open to … Read more »
We can see beings with the eyes of compassion, or with the eyes of utility. We almost literally live in different worlds depending on which eyes we use to see with.
When we see with the eyes of utility we gauge beings by their usefulness to us.
If the checkout clerk performs smoothly we’ll remain neutral, maybe even friendly, but if he or she has trouble looking up the code for an item, or — heaven forbid — has to call in a supervisor for help, we’ll quickly become irritable. This person has become an obstacle to the smooth functioning of our life.
When the child is slow getting ready for bed, succumbing to a … Read more »
For most of the 25 days in which we focused on Metta Bhavana, I felt like I was swimming in joy. About two thirds or three quarters of my meditations were positively blissful, and in my daily life I felt cocooned by lovingkindness, as if I was inside a bubble of joy that stress was unable to penetrate.
Then, on day 26, I switched to the karuna bhavana (developing compassion) and that all ground to a halt. I didn’t find the practice actually depressing, but it did feel sober. There was a feeling of having a weight in the heart.
But after just over a week of karuna bhavana I started finding the joy starting … Read more »
I’ve had more people asking me about the “near enemy” of compassion. So here goes…
The “near enemy” is, by definition, something you might confuse with compassion. You might think you were cultivating compassion but were actually cultivating something else, in the same way that you might water and care for a weed, thinking it’s a useful plant. The “far enemy” is quite straightforward. It’s cruelty, or indifference to suffering, which is just the direct opposite of compassion. That’s easy to understand. But what is compassion’s “near enemy”?
People often use the word “pity” to describe the near enemy, but the traditional commentaries use the word “grief.” Compassion is also said to fail when it … Read more »
Talking about cultivating or developing compassion can have the unfortunate side-effect of giving us the idea that compassion is something we don’t have, and need to create. Actually, the words cultivate and develop are meant to imply that we already have compassion as a natural attribute, and that what we need to do is to connect with this innate compassion and make it stronger. Really, karuna bhavana is “strengthening compassion.”
Compassion is part of our genetically inherited mental tool-kit. Other animals show compassion: primatologist Frans de Waal (one of my personal heroes) points out that chimpanzees take care of the sick and elderly, for example by bringing water to older females who are crippled by … Read more »
There are four related dimensions of lovingkindness, together called the “divine abodes,” or Brahmaviharas. These four are (1) lovingkindness itself, (2) compassion, (3) appreciation, and (4) even-minded love. I devoted the first quarter of our 100 Days to lovingkindness, and I’m going to write about compassion, the second of these practices, for the second quarter.
The meditation of cultivating compassion is called karuna bhavana. Karuna is compassion, and bhavana means “development” or “cultivation.”
Metta, or lovingkindness, is the desire of bringing that which is welfare and good to oneself and others. Compassion is the desire to remove suffering, especially from others.
The Vimuttimagga, a very early meditation manual dating from just a few centuries after the Buddha’s … Read more »