Performance-Enhancing Thoughts (PETs): Compassion (3)

Compassion: Our Divine Character

The LORD is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
he remembers we are only dust.
Our days on earth are like grass;
like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
The wind blows, and we are gone—
as though we had never been here.
But the love of the LORD remains forever
with those who fear him. [Psalm 103:13-17].

Being compassionate is not easy. It demands a resolute, untiring, sustained attitude that must accompany us wherever we go. Unfortunately, when we encounter pain and suffering near us, our compassionate attitude often disappears. We abandon our deepest feelings of love and sympathy – and we flee from involvement.

… if we do not at least try to manifest something of Creative Charity in our dealings with life, whether by action, thought, or prayer, and do it at our own cost – if we roll up the talent of love in the nice white napkin of piety and put it safely out of the way, sorry that the world is so hungry and thirsty, so sick and so fettered, and leave it at that: even that little talent may be taken from us. We may discover at the crucial moment that we are spiritually bankrupt. [Evelyn Underhil, The School of Charity: Meditations on the Christian Creed]

It is easy to feel empathy and feel altruism when we are safe and secure. We can have the most kindly and lovely disposition while watching the news. It is when we venture into active interaction with others than our weakness and lack of resolve manifest themselves.

While mindfulness can do many positive things, it alone cannot offer what, at our deepest core, we seek, for that is not an inward journey but an outward journey of transcendence. We seek to be connected to what is outside ourselves and connects us with every other. It is through compassion that this transcendence is possible: the recognition of another’s suffering and the desire to alleviate such suffering. [James R. Doty, MD, The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), Stanford University].

Defining Compassion

Compassion is a natural quality of the soul that prods our mind into feeling sympathy and commiseration for another’s suffering. It is an awareness of the pain or misfortune of someone else. It is it emotionally coupled with the wish that their suffering be alleviated.

Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. [Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words, p. 65].

True compassion is rooted in the spiritual understanding that we are connected and interdependent. We share suffering, recognizing our unity of existence and our common desire to be free from pain.

Compassion is the feeling of empathy which the pain of one being of itself awakens in another. The higher and more human the beings are, the more keenly attuned are they to re-echo the note of suffering, which like a voice from heaven, penetrates the heart, bringing to all creatures a proof of their kinship in the universal God . . . If nothing else, the very nature of his heart must teach him that he is required above everything to feel himself the brother of all beings, and to recognize the claim of all beings to his love and his beneficence. [Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Toros 17].

Compassion & Science

Scientific research suggests that we can modify our anxious temperament by adopting practices based on compassion. When immersed in our self, worries cling to our ego and anxieties feed on our conceit and irrational self-concern.

This egocentric mental isolation plunges us into pursuit of personal desires and transitory pleasures. It inhibits recognition of our common human condition and the expression of our natural compassion. We can relieve such painful conditions not only by praying for our needs but also for the needs of others.

Stress related to hostility and anxiety can result in disruptions in heart and immune function. Similarly, depression and distress may diminish the body’s natural capacity to heal … scientists found solid evidence that mind-body techniques actually do fight disease and promote health. [Center for Integrative Medicine, The University of Maryland].

The power of our thoughts and emotions to influence physical  health has been well documented. Compassion can significantly alter our neurophysiological and immune systems.

It has long been assumed that selfishness, greed, and competitiveness lie at the core of human behavior, the products of our evolution…. But clearly, recent scientific findings forcefully challenge this view of human nature. We see that compassion is deeply rooted in our brains, our bodies, and in the most basic ways we communicate. What’s more, a sense of compassion fosters compassionate behavior and helps shape the lessons we teach our children. [Dacher Keltner, The Compassionate Instinct, Greater Good Science Center, University of California, Berkeley].

When submerged beneath self-centered anxiety, reality appears distorted. Fear dominates our perceived need for self-preservation. Such excessive preoccupation with our own well-being, blended with a deflated self-esteem, can be overwhelming.

In compassion-focused therapy it is hypothesised that [the] affect regulation system is poorly accessible in people with high shame and self-criticism, in whom the ‘threat’ affect regulation system dominates orientation to their inner and outer worlds … One of its key concerns is to use compassionate mind training to help people develop and work with experiences of inner warmth, safeness and soothing, via compassion and self-compassion. [Paul Gilbert].

The Compassionate Mind

By developing compassionate traits and faculties, our mind becomes trained to feel positive emotions toward ourselves and others. This helps us cope with worries and anxieties formed by low self-esteem, shame and painful childhood memories. No longer burdened with recurring voices from the past, and freed from a sense of impending doom, we can begin to cultivate awareness of the Divine.

“He comforteth us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. [2 Corinthians 3-4]” Then the Lord comforts us, not to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters. Thou hast received the gift of comfort; now go out and comfort others! “We take God’s gifts most completely for ourselves when we realise that He sends them to us for the benefit of other men.” [John Henry Jowett, Silver Lining: Messages of Hope and Cheer, p. 124].

 Compassion can influence the way we respond to rejection or criticism. It can stimulate positive thoughts toward ourselves and others, and reduce emotional distress and irrational behavior.

If a person seems wicked, do not cast him away. Awaken him with your words, elevate him with your deeds, repay his injury with your kindness. Do not cast him away; cast away his wickedness. [Lao Tzu].

Compassion & Consciousness

By cultivating deeper spiritual awareness, compassionate thoughts can prevail naturally. This means that we can enhance our social interaction by willfully redirecting the way our mind functions. Our faith can grow to generate empathy with much less effort.

Love of all creatures is also love of God, for whoever loves the One (God) loves all the works that He has made. When one loves God, it is impossible not to love His creatures. The opposite is also true. If one hates the creatures, it is impossible to love God Who created them. [Rabbi Judah Loew, Maharal of Prague].

Compassion is innately ingrained in spiritual consciousness. Our self-esteem becomes invigorated when we recognize traits in our personality that resemble the ideals of great spiritual leaders.

It is not enough to experience the divine or the transcendent; the experience must then be incarnated in our behavior towards others. All the great religions insist that the test of true spirituality is practical compassion. The Buddha once said that after experiencing enlightenment, a man must leave the mountaintop and return to the marketplace and there practice compassion for all living beings.  [Karen Armstrong].

In other words, when our thoughts are attuned to the Divine Reality, we adopt positive moods, and recognize desirable traits in ourselves and in others.

Do you wish to commune with God in your mind? Strive to be merciful. To the spiritual love which imprints the invisible image (of God in oneself), there is no other path than that a man should first of all begin to be merciful in the measure that our heavenly Father is merciful. [Isaac of Syria].

Transformation from Compassion

Compassion can transform our pain and suffering into acts of courage and heroism. Providing service to others, with no expectation of compensation or benefits, is perhaps the best remedy for excessive self-absorption.

Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Execute true justice, Show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother.” [Zechariah 7:9 (NKJV)].

Our spiritual growth requires that we seek our faults, errors and frailties and replace them with virtues. Our search is inward, into our soul where spiritual awareness can purify and transform us. There, we find who we truly are and conform to what our Creator intends us to be.

We showed [mankind] both paths, that of virtue and that of vice? Yet he has not been eager … [to ]attempt the difficult path of overcoming self-interest. And you just do not know what the difficult path of overcoming self- interest! It is the freeing of a slave, or feeding one in need on a day of privation: Such as an orphan of your kin or blood-relation or an indigent who is in dire need. Besides being one of those characterized by piety in every deed, who enjoin forbearance under provocation, bear with others their faults and limitations and enjoin endurance of pain, trouble or evil and constancy in labour, exertion or effort and show compassion toward suffering fellow-creatures, being disposed to forgive and exercise mercy. [Quran 90:10-17].

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