10 Ways to Practice Compassion

how to practice compassion

Are you compassionate?

A guest post by Annika Martins of The Catalyst Sessions

Think of the last time you encountered someone who was suffering.

Maybe they were coping with physical pain, financial struggles or the emotional weight of a divorce or the death of a loved one.

Would you define your response to them as compassionate?

Now think of the last time someone inconvenienced you.

Maybe an aggressive driver forced you to swerve off the road during rush hour or one of your children accidentally broke an expensive lamp. Maybe it was as simple as the pizza delivery guy being an hour late.

How did you respond?

Compassion-blindness

Most of us live with mental blinders that prevent us from seeing the many opportunities for kindness we encounter every day. We respond to life’s challenges from a position of irritation and defensiveness instead of realizing that every moment offers us a chance to be gentle instead of sharp, thoughtful instead of insensitive.

The best way to remove these defensive blinders and make compassion an automatic response in every situation is to consciously practice incorporating it into our everyday lives.

Compassion becomes active when it is worked like a muscle. It is something we must practice, just like daily meditation, yoga or playing the piano.

By directing consistent attention and effort at it, we will naturally sink into a rhythm of words and behaviors that reflect this loving kindness in everything we do.

Daily acts of compassion

There are many activities we can engage in to proactively cultivate compassion in our daily lives. Here are 10 ideas you can try out for yourself:

tip #1: teach

You have a set of unique talents, skills and access to a wide range of resources. Who can you share your talents/resources with today? Where might you find a person who would benefit from what you have to give? Compassion does not hoard what it has but gives generously.

tip #2: be taught

There are talents/skills that don’t come to you naturally, but flow easily for others. Ask for their guidance and support. People feel empowered when we honour their abilities by asking for their contribution.

tip #3: offer sincere praise

Forced compliments and fake smiles are not easily disguised, so don’t bother trying. Instead, look for opportunities to genuinely applaud someone’s talents (tip #2 should make this fairly easy). Compassion does not claim the spotlight for itself, but rather shines it on others.

tip #4: be curious

Create opportunities to objectively explore the things and people you are judgemental of. Read a novel written by an author from a culture you have a low opinion of. Start a casual conversation with the colleague who follows a different religious/spiritual tradition. Allow yourself to recognize common values instead of relying on old stereotypes.

tip #5: switch shoes

Inhabiting someone else’s experience is one of the best ways to cultivate compassion. Offer to cover the responsibilities of a co-worker who is out sick/on vacation. Walk or take public transportation to work instead of driving. Changing our usual routine is an excellent way to shift our perspective and see others from a new vantage point.

tip #6: be a silent witness

Watch a parent walking hand in hand with their child. Let a dog lick your hand. Close your eyes and feel the wind/rain/snow on your face. Silently witness the many expressions of love happening all around you. Compassion and love are one in the same.

tip #7: create stillness

Meditation quiets the stream of mental chatter (which often includes a fair bit of judgement of ourselves and others) that diminishes our ability to fully connect with the present moment. True presence allows us to see beyond external layers of difference and identify the core oneness we share with everyone else on this planet. When you recognize the interconnectedness of everything, compassion flows naturally.

tip #8: turn it inward

Although extending compassion to others should be a daily practice, showing that same kindness to ourselves is also vital. Are you holding onto past regrets? Have you ever done/said something that you are deeply ashamed of? Ask yourself, “Who would I be without this regret/shame?” Each day, practice forgiving yourself. Whether silently, out loud or maybe in front of a mirror, cultivate a space of calm acceptance of all things.

tip #9: seek out those in need

One of the quickest ways to cultivate a sense of loving kindness is to seek out opportunities to interact with those in need. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Spend time visiting patients in a hospital (many hospitals have programs that facilitate this). Work in a soup kitchen for an afternoon. Compassion reponds to suffering with gentleness, giving its time and energy generously.

tip #10: pause

They say hindsight is 20/20. It is often easy for us to admit that we used unkind words or behaved aggressively after we’ve reflected on our actions. Don’t wait until afterwards to pause and reflect. When you have to write a difficult email, challenge a colleague or complain to the restaurant manager about poor service, pause and consider the other person’s position. Could they just be having a really rough day? Is it possible for you to communicate your concerns with kindness instead of aggressiveness? Pause and let the compassionate answer come through.

A note on Pity vs Compassion

Some might say that regularly engaging with those who are suffering (as suggested in #9) will become an enormous emotional drain.

Yes, if your interactions arise from a feeling of pity for others, you may very likely feel pained by these encounters. In fact, all of these tips could have a negative impact on both you and the recipient if the primary driver of your behavior is a feeling of pity.

Pity creates distance. It positions one person as superior, as far above the other. Compassion recognizes the sameness between all people, animals and the Earth. Compassion connects whereas pity separates.

Cultivating compassion for yourself and everything you encounter will create a life of ease and harmony.

Sounds like a good life to me.

What is your experience of offering or receiving compassion? Please share in the comments.

Annika Martins is the creator of The Catalyst Sessions, a jumpstart series designed to boost women entrepreneurs from mediocre to magnificent.  You can also find Annika on Twitter at @annikamartins.

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Tough and Compassionate at the same time? – Tough Love for women entrepreneurs
February 15, 2012 at 9:30 am

{ 16 comments }

1 Noch Noch | be me. be natural. January 18, 2012 at 7:06 am

I learnt my compassion through my own suffering – i went through major depression the last 2 years. it has taught me that everyone has their reasons for their behaviours and actions and that outward appearance / image do not mean everything, same as my situation that I was always happy and smiling and yet was so painful inside
I’ve just learnt to give people space, and not judge
Noch Noch
Noch Noch | be me. be natural.´s last blog post ..is it really a rat race?

2 Annika January 18, 2012 at 10:52 am

Thank you for sharing your story so openly, Noch Noch. Nonjudgment is absolutely the bedrock of it all.

Your comment also reminds us that another component of true compassion is complete honesty. Compassionate people are willing to be vulnerable and share our low points just as readily as we share our highs. Thank you for your compassionate comment:)
Annika´s last blog post ..How to get out of your negativity funk

3 The Vizier January 18, 2012 at 9:24 am

Hi Annika,

It is so true. Many of us live with compassion blindness. Our compassion has double-standards so to speak.

And as you have wisely pointed out, the best way to make compassion an automatic response is to keep on practicing it until it becomes second nature to us. I love the 10 daily acts of compassion that you have shared with us. The following stand out most for me.

#3. offer sincere praise

I love to receive praise and I know how it feels. Thus, when I see someone who does something worthy of praise, I am quick to say so. I know by praising them, it will not only make them feel acknowledged, but it will also strengthen their confidence and skill. A kind word goes a long way and I will not miss an opportunity to put in a kind word.

#5. switch shoes

Nothing gives us deeper insight than actual experience. Things may look easy from the outside, but when we actually do something and get our hands dirty do we get the full perspective that experience brings. When we see the world from the eyes of another or when we have similar experiences, we are slower to judge because we understand. That is when compassion can flow through.

Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

Irving the Vizier
The Vizier´s last blog post ..Sharing Your Inner World to Enrich Memories and Experiences

4 Annika January 18, 2012 at 10:48 am

So glad you found it valuable Irving! Bit by bit, we’ll peel those blinders away:)
Annika´s last blog post ..How to get out of your negativity funk

5 Rose Byrd January 18, 2012 at 3:15 pm

I particularly enjoyed the paragraph on the difference between compassion and pity. Compassion allows the other party to retain their human dignity.
I also enjoyed the sections on being still, as when walking your dog; and paragraph on pausing. Being a rather type-A personality, I have been meditating for many years on stillness and pausing! Bless you for this extremely helpful posting which I am saving in a special folder.
Rose Byrd´s last blog post ..MEETING THE FOUR HORSES

6 Annika January 18, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Rose, I’m touched. So happy to hear you found it helpful. In fact, the warmth of all the commenters on Goodlife Zen is truly moving.

Pausing and learning to be still are probably two of the most important practices we can devote our time to. Everything (including compassion) flows from there.
Annika´s last blog post ..How to get out of your negativity funk

7 Paige | Simple Mindfulness January 20, 2012 at 3:35 pm

These are all wonderful ways of being every day.

My biggest experience with compassion was with my father. We spent many years butting heads, being defensive and generally resisting each other. When I finally got tired of all the negativity, I paused and tried to rest in his shoes. When I thought about his life as a child and the environment he grew up in, his current behaviours made perfect sense. Instead of anger, I felt more compassion toward him. While none of this changed his behaviour, it changed how I reacted to it going forward. Now I’m much more relaxed about our relationship. It’s still not great but at least it’s no longer a major emotional drain on me. I have finally fully accepted the way that it is.
Paige | Simple Mindfulness´s last blog post ..How to Create Your Best Year Ever – One Conscious Choice at a Time

8 Annika January 23, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Paige, that’s a beautiful transformation for you in how you relate to your father. I have several relationships that I would characterize in the exact same way. Sometimes the most compassionate act we can give another person is our acceptance of them just as they are.
Annika´s last blog post ..How to get out of your negativity funk

9 Matt January 20, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Great tips Annika!

One thing I really struggle with is how to be compassionate yet assertive. How to be tough when you need to be in a zen sort of way?

10 Sandra / Always Well Within January 21, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Annika,

Thank you for helping us see more deeply that people needs compassion not just when they are overtly suffering. Compassion comes easiest for me when I reflect on how we are fundamentally all alike in wanting happiness and wanting to avoid suffering, and this is what motivates our behaviors. Even the negative ones.

I especially like the idea of giving praise. It can be done so easily. And lately, I’ve noticed what a difference it makes when I smile at others.
Sandra / Always Well Within´s last blog post ..The Magic of Optimism

11 Next Starfish January 23, 2012 at 4:42 pm

I think this is a great post on a critical subject.

We can learn compassion, and we can also teach it too. The way we raise our children directly affects how considerate, caring, generous, empathetic, sharing and compassionate they are to others. We need to instill in our children the idea that they should always try to see any situation from the other person’s perspective – perhaps over time we can build a more caring and co-operative society.

The alternative doesn’t bare thinking about !

My blog post on teaching compassion from last year – http://nextstarfish.com/?p=5219

Keep up the good work :)

-STEVE-
Next Starfish´s last blog post ..It IS the Winning or the Losing that Matters

12 Lea January 28, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Being compassionate influences your level of happiness and allows you to development deeper connections with others.
Lea´s last blog post ..Embrace Success

13 Lalitha Brahma January 31, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Great article. Thanks Annika for clearly explaining the difference between pity and compassion. It did open me to be careful in future, and be AWARE if I am pitying the person OR being compassionate.

What is your experience of offering or receiving compassion? Please share in the comments.

1. Forgiving myself and deeply and completely accepting myself, when certain events/things create negative emotion.
2. Allowing myself to be a good listener instead of reacting to someone.
3. Accepting others as they are.
Lalitha Brahma´s last blog post ..Three Tips To Guarantee Happiness To An Entrepreneur

14 Susan Monta February 26, 2012 at 4:50 am

We have an total responsibility not to spend plenty of duration of the learners who show up to Spiritual University. After all, they are prohibited to depart. If I go to a address and I’m tired, I can move out. But we never give kids at public school. So I think we have to make sure that their period in college is well invested by providing them complicated and interesting content.

Having fun also seems like a great idea. And some people believe that the best way to have fun is to convert studying time into game time. But I don’t agree, because, luckily, kids normally love studying. So I think that by offering a revitalizing atmosphere we will also make a position where kids appreciate themselves. Educational institutions that stupid down their program to make the position more attractive have it in reverse.

15 Chark October 15, 2012 at 11:09 am

Can I just say firstly that I am 16 years old, and from reading this article, I felt like jumping out of bed and giving everyone I see a hug and tell them they are beautiful!
I believe in giving everyone compliments, and I don’t respect one back. If others around me don’t feel good about themselves, I just want to tell them they are beautiful!
Anyways, what I wanted to say was this article really inspired me to make a change in myself because I am always happy and I would like to shed some of my happiness on to others.

16 jinka October 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm

25, female
Stumbled upon your website while working on a project, sifting through hundreds of websites to create a campaign on mental wellbeing.

You are incredible and inspiring, I can’t believe how similar my situations are to yours and I have pulled so much from this which will help me personally.

Pursuing a job for 6 years that I never got anything out of in anyway, I decided to leave the job and were without pay for 5 months with no idea what industry to head into.
I decided to start knocking on doors of places where I thought I would like to work and was taken up by a great Media agency where I am now 5 months into a job I love.
When I read your article about pursuiting your dream I couldn’t believe how similar our situations were.

Going on to read many more articles I believe I am going to get a lot out of reading from your website more often and taking as much in as possible.

Thank you so much :-)

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