Compassion is often confused with pityness. The first one is not giving any pain, while pityness is a state of identification with something painful. Does feeling pain help us anyway? Compassion is rather trying to feel connected to reality. What contains the power of this so commonly used word?
The definition of compassion
Since human kind arose, compassion has been preached in all situations and all religions as one of the most essential concepts. Apparently – when you look at how people treat each other – it didn’t always work out well. Maybe the deeper meaning has not been understood. I wonder if there would still be hate and war if people would understand the meaning of compassion and the impact of the real sense of it.
So I searched for the definition of compassion in order to find the probable misunderstanding and the concerned erroneous mind constructs. I found some definitions among others by Cambridge University and Merriam-Webster. This confirmed the discrepancy. Something can only be effective if it is well understood. And therefore it should be well defined. A mistake we often make: we talk about something that we don’t really sense ourselves, relying on the vague image that we use for it. And thus importing all our projections onto it.
There is a common agreement to the fact of the change of meaning of the word passion.
The word compassion is composed of two words: com and passion. There is no doubt about the roots of com, from the latin cum, meaning “with”. But it is agreed that the word “passion” has had a change in the original meaning. Coming from “pati”, the latin root word for “suffering”, it’s clear that we derived from that meaning. Passion now has a rather positive meaning, like being passionate. In the purpose of my writing (inquiring to gain an independent free connection with a harmonious attitude), I learned that the word “pati” is associated with the crucifixion and suffering of Jesus. So, anyway, he couldn’t have talked about compassion in this way (suffering) while he was living. Let’s then put every conditioning aside and investigate from a pure point of view, as far as we can. Because I can’t believe that a wise man would advise a human being to suffer with the other. What’s the use of feeling sad when someone else is suffering? What does it bring us?
What about indifference?
Of course, indifference is not better. Maybe identifying with the suffering of the other is the other pole of indifference. So the one is a compensation for the other: a concept in duality. Suffering because of the suffering of the other, dimed by indifference. And indifference moving out of itself by the thought “what would it do to me in that situation”… bringing fear and powerlessness. Where is the right balance?
When my dear wife died in a horrible way during a terrorist attack in Brussels Airport, people around me seemed to feel my pain. The result was catastrophic for me: I ended up with no friends anymore. And even my closest family found in their rational and emotional mind some reason to justify not visiting me anymore. That’s what this kind of “compassion” leads to: not finding a way to deal with the painful reality. I suppose they felt pity for me, but practically it came to me as them being indifferent.
Don’t identify with the pain of others
Long after the terrorist attack, I myself could not endure to see any pain from another anymore. Even not being able to take some news from the outer world without feeling nauseous and the Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome rising up. No movie, no television. All was too hard to be confronted with. I had to go into deep meditation to soften these emotions and to find some balance. This kind of compassion brings nothing to each other. We need to reinvestigate compassion. Asking ourselves how we can really help.
How can we help?
Can we ask ourselves: “does wanting to make someone happy (or less suffering) make us happy”? I feel that making someone happy makes us happy. But if we cannot succeed, it’s terribly frustrating. It’s essential that we learn the right way to proceed when someone is suffering. In other words: how can we help? And then, the real effective compassion gets into play.
No sadness, but concern. No suffering with the other. Concern makes that the indifference disappears and that there is an intelligent inquiry about how to release the suffering. Among emotion researchers, compassion is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. I like this definition above others. The motivation, rising from a (unconditioned) feeling and not from emotion, can be pure. This kind of motivation is more free than when you feel a desire to alleviate other’s distress. In spiritual teachings we often talk about the danger of desire, being part of the ego-consciousness and bringing frustration and confusion.
Empathy is the action generated by the ability and capacity, being sensitive, to understand and share the feelings and thoughts of another.
In order to help efficiently, there is a need for insight about the human mind. That’s when empathy plays its role. Empathy is also a feeling that comes out of a realistic, intelligent way of understanding someone’s confronting situation. To gain this capacity – as with all wisdom – a deep self-inquiry is necessary. Compassion and empathy go hand in hand.
Help yourself first. It will be the same process as helping others. I don’t mean that you should bring yourself more of what your ego wants. Real self-help is about being conscious of how your mind tricks you in many ways. Find truth that brings balance to yourself and others at the same time, if they are open to it. Compassion is then being triggered or moved by realising that everyone, in it’s own way, is trying to create his own happiness. Probably, if you reach this pure state of compassion, you will feel good just by giving a smile and showing affection.
If there is resistance by lack of openness, one should not feel resonance with this ego. You can find the other in the sharing of Love and the same search for unity. But not effectively by identifying with the projections of the other. Don’t re-act on them. Just talk truth as much as you can.