If someone sitting next to you on the bus started crying, what would you do? Or if you saw someone pass out on the sidewalk? If your best friend called you for relationship advice? What would be the compassionate response?
Other-oriented compassion would ask the person why he/she is crying. It would rush to see if the person on the sidewalk needed help. It would cause you to listen to your friend and offer advice if needed. You would most likely respond immediately and instinctively to all of these situations.
So why do most people find it challenging when it comes to self-compassion?
During the Compassion Tour’s stop in San Antonio, Texas, I attended Kristin Neff’s workshop on self-compassion and meditation. Author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, she points out how one can treat oneself with compassion just as one would treat another in need of compassion. She reminds us,
“The recognition of common humanity entailed by self-compassion also allows us to be more understanding and less judgmental about our inadequacies. Our thoughts, feelings and actions are largely impacted by factors outside of our control: parenting history, culture, genetic and environmental conditions, as well as the demands and expectations of others. After all, if we had full control over our behavior, how many people would consciously choose to have anger problems, addiction issues, debilitating social anxiety, an eating disorder? Many aspects of ourselves and the circumstances of our lives are not of our intentional choosing, but instead stem from innumerable factors that our outside our sphere of influence. When we acknowledge this reality, failings and life difficulties do not have to be taken so personally.”
She offers simple techniques on how to engage in self-compassion such as physical self-soothing as you would another, meditating on your compassionate inner voice who knows best, and taking time to oneself for reflection. She believes that all those acts of compassion one can do outwardly can be a part of our own repertoire for self-compassion.
Yet, is it necessary to have self-compassion first in order to have other-oriented compassion?
I say YES!
I strongly believe in the Ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself” and in self-inquiry that asks the question, “Who am I?” From personal experience and being exposed to beliefs of masters, mystics, saints, and sages, I’ve come to know an expanded notion of self with a capital “S” in a way that brings a tremendous amount of inner peace. Taking time to stay grounded, whether it be alone time, meditation, or contemplation, rejuvenates me so I can therefore help others more effectively.
You establish that peace and bring it to those you encounter, therefore bringing love and healing into any and every situation.
Ultimately, once dualistic thinking ceases, you establish unity consciousness, where you perceive the truth—that all things are one. This deconstructs the notion of “I-thou” or “I-it” and reinforces the interconnectedness of unity which lies at the heart of all that is.
Self-compassion and other-oriented compassion become one thing—compassion.