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Compassion Can Be the Light on Our Path of Purpose and Passion

The past few years have been quite difficult for most of us, making it very easy to get onto a path of feeling angry and losing sight of our passion and joy.

Strengthening our feeling of compassion and stretching ourselves to demonstrate compassion and generosity of spirit can be among the most powerful ways to reconnect to our inner passion, purpose, vitality, and joyfulness. 

“Having compassion, concern, respect, and kindness for others not only benefits society

but is the most important factor for our own happiness.”

                                        ~ Dalai Lama, The Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s Stages of the Path — Vol. 1

The past few years have been quite difficult for most of us, making it very easy to get onto a path of feeling angry and losing sight of our passion and joy.

Strengthening our feeling of compassion and stretching ourselves to demonstrate compassion and generosity of spirit, especially in situations and to people further outside of our usual circle, can be among the most powerful ways to reconnect to our inner passion, purpose, vitality, and joyfulness. Pushing ourselves to open to compassion for those outside our own “tribe” has a way of stretching and filling our hearts.

“Kindness and compassion are the foundation to all good things,” says the Dalai Lama, in The Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s Stages of the Path — Vol. 1: Guidance for the Modern Practitioner.

And we need to stretch such kindness and compassion to those outside our circle in order to expand our heart and mind, as “it is a small mind that only embraces those whom one relies, such as friends and relations,” cautions the Dalai Lama.

Kindness, compassion, and generosity have, in fact, been found to be more effective than antidepressant medication for increasing our feeling of well-being. The research of Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, at the University of California-Riverside, has found that acting with kindness and compassion increases the production of serotonin in our brain, a key neurotransmitter responsible for mood, energy, sleep, sharpness of thought, digestion, and physical health. Students who participated in her study were asked to commit five random acts of kindness per week over a six-week period.

At the end of the study, these students were found to have an increase of 41.66 percent in their level of happiness. And studies that began in the 1980s have found that volunteering to help others is associated with decreased blood pressure, stomach acid, and cholesterol levels, as well as increased immunity to disease. It has also been correlated with lowered mortality risk in older adults, decreased symptoms of stress, better sleep, decreased pain, and better mood. This has been coined “the helper’s high.”

Not only does acting with compassion and kindness benefit those whom we bestow our kindness on, as well as ourselves, but these actions also create mental and physical benefits for observers of our compassionate behaviors. Participants of a study in which videos of Mother Teresa helping people were viewed, were found to have an increase of Immunoglobin-A, our body’s natural immune booster that enables us to fight off viruses and diseases. This has been named the “Mother Teresa Effect.”

Furthermore, when others witness our acts of kindness and compassion, it can motivate them to find ways to spread more kindness and compassion. The warm, tingly, and open feeling in our chest that we experience when we are lucky enough to witness such acts has been described as a feeling of “elevation” by Dr. Jonathan Haidt, of the University of Virginia, in his book, Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-Lived. “Such feelings of elevation,” Haidt wrote, “causes warm, open feelings in the chest, and it motivates people to behave more virtuously themselves.”

Therefore, our own small acts of compassion and kindness can have the effect of rippling so much that we really can be the change we want to see in the world, in the powerful and memorable words of Gandhi.

On the other hand, when we turn away from those who need our compassion the most, there is increased despair, not only for them, but also within ourselves. Picking and choosing whom to feel compassion for while closing our hearts to the rest actually robs us of our full human experience of depth and passion.

On a more global level, a lack of compassion leads to a tough and punishing community rather than one filled with the kindness and peace we want in our world. So, it’s worth the effort and even the pain it takes to expand and deepen our compassion for those outside our family and our network — our tribe.

I don’t want to make it sound like compassion is always easy. It’s not. It can often be quite difficult and painful. In fact, the Latin meaning of the word compassion is “co-suffering.” We might suffer along with those we have compassion for. But the price of closing our hearts to compassion is quite high, while the payoff for acting with compassion in the most challenging of circumstances is immense.

I invite you to try these tips for deepening and expanding your compassion:

· Start with self-care. If we don’t take care of ourselves, then it’s difficult for us to have sustainable compassion for others. We’re more likely to simply burn out and develop compassion fatigue. Self-care involves having compassion, forgiveness, and love for ourselves. Check out my last blog, Loving Ourselves Will Open the Door to Greater Happiness.

· Practice gratitude. When we have gratitude for what we have, it’s much easier to be generous with our compassion for others. For ideas about how to do this, take a look at Having an Attitude of Gratitude: What are You Thankful For?

· Practice random acts of kindness. The emotional benefits of kindness and generosity are so powerful that the very act of doing this will bring about more loving kindness within! Read about it here: The Benefits of Kindness and Generosity: Creating More Meaning in Your Life Through Giving Without Expectation.

· Practice the “Loving Kindness Meditation” (otherwise known as “Metta Meditation”). This practice from the Buddhist tradition helps to increase a feeling of compassion and love within. It involves wishing happiness and praying for the well-being of first yourself, then a good friend, then someone whom you don’t know well, then a person whom you have difficulty with, and then all humans on earth. One example of a guided Metta Meditation is by psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach, and you can check it out HERE.

· Volunteer to help those who come from different backgrounds and life circumstances from you. Getting to know people who are different than us on a deeply personal level humanizes the “other” to us and makes it easier to open our hearts to them.

Psychologist Jack Kornfield writes in his book, The Wise Heart, “thick layers of ignorance and trauma can obscure our compassion.” On a personal level, Kornfield attributes ignorance to “envy, anxiety, addiction, and aggression” and warns us, “when we take this blindness to be the end of the story, we limit the possibility of human development.”

In other words, we can’t truly live out our passion without having sincere compassion. The wonderful news is that, as Kornfield points out, “compassion is our nature” and that “we can touch into this compassion whenever our mind is quiet, whenever we allow the heart to open.” Therefore, connecting to our innate compassion is as simple as making time each day to quiet the mind and just breathe.

You can read similar blogs by Dr. Mara and listen to her internet radio show. Now also on Apple Podcasts.  Check out Dr. Mara’s internationally best-selling book, The Passionate Life: Creating Vitality & Joy at Any Age, now available on Audible!   And be sure to follow her on Facebook!