Is Compassion A Spiritual Practice?

Most of us would like to think of ourselves as compassionate. You may donate your time to nonprofits and feel a sense of good knowing that with loving kindness you are helping those less fortunate. At Center for Spiritual Living Boulder Valley, our outreach program changes each month and many of us joyfully bring in goods to support the variety programs we support.

And yet, being compassionate can be much more difficult when someone is hurting us. Or when we see painful events occurring across our community. School districts across the front range closing because of threats to our children, churches on guard in fear of religious persecution and intolerance, children taken from their parents as they cross the border coming into our country seeking refuge.

How do we “be” compassion in instances that trigger us?

Compassion starts with perception

When you see others as different or separate from you it can be difficult to have compassion for them. Perceiving a shared humanity, knowing that we are all one is a different way of seeing the world in relation to other people. Knowing our oneness as a human species is a steppingstone to being a compassionate person.

We might say that compassion is a way of “being”….an understanding of someone’s pain and a desire to stop that pain. Interestingly, compassion is a common practice in the ethical teachings of all major religions and traditions.

How can you cultivate a spirit of compassion in your life?

It begins with your Spiritual Practice. In the book A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Livesby Thupten Jinpa, PhD (interpreter to the Dalai Lama himself), he shares steps to building a sense of compassion which include:

  1. A belief in the basic sameness of self and others
  2. A sense of appreciation for others
  3. Expanding our circle of compassion to those not close to us.

Would you like to be more compassionate? Start with having compassion for yourself first. Then expand to building a sense of compassion for others.

Here are three steps you can take to begin implementing compassion in your spiritual practice:

  1. Treat yourself like you would your best friend. When experiencing a hard time yourself, take the attitude that you would towards a best friend that has experienced a failure. You wouldn’t berate them (like you would yourself). You listen with empathy and understanding, assuring them that mistakes are normal. Treat yourself in this same way.
  2. When faced with a difficult person, remember the truths of what you have in common. You can imagine someone specific in your mind and repeat to yourself,
    1. “Just like me, __________ (this person) is seeking happiness in their life.”
    2. “Just like me, _____ (this person) wants to avoid suffering in their life.”
    3. “Just like me, _______ (this person) is learning about life.”
  3. Visualize the relief of someone else’s suffering. You can do this in stages and expand. Begin with someone you know and love. Move on to someone suffering that you don’t know – perhaps a homeless person you’ve seen. Then, visualize the relief of someone’s suffering that has harmed you in some way. This builds your compassion muscle and allows you to slowly vibrate compassion for more people in a stronger way as time goes on.

It doesn’t have to take hours of focus and dedication to develop a sense of compassion. Researchers have foundthat a seven-minute meditation is enough to increase feelings of closeness and connection to the target of the meditation. Begin by integrating compassion into your spiritual practice and expand from there.

For more personalized guidance on compassion or your spiritual practice, reach out to a licensed spiritual practitioner at Center for Spiritual Living Boulder Valley.

Kelly Robbins, RScP
Practitioner at Center for Spiritual Living Boulder Valley

You can reach Kelly at Kelly@KellyRobbins.net