People are often confused about how to cultivate compassion. There are several approaches. One method is moving beyond empathy to compassion. Empathy is feeling like the other person is feeling. We often “take on” or “own” the others’ pain, which can be overwhelming. This is especially true for healthcare professionals, teachers, and anyone working in the service sector. This also happens in relationships. It can lead to sadness, anxiety, and burnout. Compassion is the wish and action, when we are able, of reducing suffering. Remember that compassion goes both ways. There is compassion for others as well as compassion for ourselves. When we shift from empathy to compassion, there is more “space.” Emotionally we take half a step back and see the situation more fully with an eye on what we can do to help. The overall feeling is meaningful as we are trying to reduce suffering. This is true even if we cannot do anything, at least for now, to help. There is nevertheless a tinge of sadness connecting to the others’ or our own pain. Compassion takes courage and strength. It is not weakness. This is especially true when combating injustice. Another approach is practicing various ways of directly enhancing compassion, which we will discuss in my next post.
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