(printed in the New Spirit Journal October 2008)
If you believe a spiritual life is part of being a balanced person in this world and are already on your path, you know cultivating compassion is part of the journey. There are a number of great books out there on the value of compassion, but integrating a pragmatic approach into your everyday life often feels much more complicated than the books might lead you to believe.
As an intuitive counselor people come to me with questions about implementing compassion. It’s a skill set worth learning. Attitude shifts that involve managing the world from a stance of faith instead of fear, moving from needing to control to choosing to trust, and adopting a perspective of gratitude instead of yearning enhance the manifestation of a compassionate understanding.
We often think that being compassionate means making other people and their hardships our priority. If we neglect to include ourselves in the equation, our efforts to give compassion often fall short or feel somehow hollow. If we can’t be compassionate with ourselves, how can we be sure our perspective with others is an authentically compassionate one? When we don’t hold ourselves as a priority in implementing compassion it isn’t long before the impact of our lack of integrity starts to effect us and those around us. Compassion for others without compassion for self can lead to feelings of resentment and disappointment. And the relationships based in this kind of interaction will often encounter deep conflicts after a time.
Many of us attempt to live a compassionate life from a place of thinking that we can make up for our belief of unworthiness by doing good deeds for others. This is a backwards approach. From an energetic perspective, compassion for others can only come from a strong foundation of care for the self. Doing the personal work of establishing strong self-esteem and then reaching outside of ourselves to help heal and soothe others is a more powerful stance for bringing compassion to the world.
When you commit to living a spiritual life with compassion for yourself, the concept of disciplining yourself to do it will usually bring up some fruitful personal work. When we fail at something, (in this case failing to be compassionate), we may judge ourselves, or be judged, harshly. Because a common definition of discipline is inclusive of hardship and pain, this is in direct opposition to being compassionate with ourselves.
Let’s look at the attitude shifts that enhance the manifestation of compassion to see if we can apply compassion to ourselves. Managing life from faith instead of fear is desirable. If we go through life making decisions based from beliefs of fear or from a ‘cup half empty’, we attract and manifest people and events that will substantiate the fear perspective. Conversely, if we manage life from a faith perspective we will attract and manifest a world that substantiates that trusting view point. To act from faith rather than fear, we must move from needing to control a situation to trusting that it will work out for the best.
What if you decide to choose an attitude of trust the next time you are faced with a situation you would normally prefer to control? For example, what if you have planned a trip from your home in Los Angeles to Australia? You purchased tickets six months ago and all the arrangements have been made. Three days before you are scheduled to go you come down with strep throat and stomach cramps. You go to the doctor and get antibiotics and twenty-four hours later your throat is feeling better but your stomach is still cramping. You make the hard decision to put off your trip for a few days and go back to the doctor. If you don’t get better will you cancel the trip? Can you trust that letting go of an outcome will result in it all working out for the best?
A compassionate definition of discipline includes a commitment to doing what you do as an act of self-love. Can you connect with a true feeling of ‘letting go, letting God’? Can you give yourself permission to be at ease with this? Letting go of your travel plans is an act of self-love because worrying about the money you’re losing or blaming yourself for getting sick will not soothe your stomach, and very well might make it worse. Walking a path of compassion may be simple and it is seldom easy. A helpful tool towards attaining a compassionate attitude that would be useful in this example includes transforming yearning into gratitude.
When we are in yearning we reach outside our present world and spend a lot of our energy invested in future potential rather than present reality. To be in the present, we need to radically accept ourselves just the way we are and we need to accept our situation as it is, not how we want it or wish it to be. Gratitude is always in the present and it is a great way to anchor ourselves in the moment. Unfortunately, it is difficult to feel thankful when you are heartsick with disappointment and writhing with a stomachache.
You might say to yourself, “I see myself trying to let go of the outcome though I am worried, sick and disappointed. I see myself attempting to feel grateful for this situation. And I just can’t do it right now. But wow! I am choosing self compassion and I can be grateful for that! This gives me faith in myself and gratitude for my strength.” By trying to manifest compassion by searching for faith and gratitude, you actually do. This creates a wonderful feedback loop once you get the hang of it and helps you progress along your spiritual path.
It may not be easy to be kinder to and more positive to yourself; many of us have a lifetime of experience doing the opposite to overcome!. Give yourself permission to ask for help reframing your reactions. Enlist friends, family and professionals who support your commitment to self-acceptance and the attitudinal shifts that cultivate compassion.