Cul·ti·vate - try to acquire or develop (a quality, sentiment, or skill).
Com·pas·sion - sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
In the past year, I’ve learned that compassion isn’t one of those kind sentiments that everyone lends their hearts to. My eyes have been forced to see the lack of compassion flooding our planet. People existing in their own worlds—unable to reach outside of themselves. And even if they were able to step inside another’s shoes—would they? Would you?
I know it’s not always easy to admit when we, ourselves, are wrong. I know it’s hard to acknowledge that each of us have, more than likely, bruised a heart or two, or not made the best choices. But if we want to grow, and change what’s wrong in the world, we have to first start with ourselves. We have to love ourselves enough to forgive where we have faltered, and to hold our heads high in moving forward in doing what is right.
We all grow and learn at different paces, and from different experiences. Nobody has it all figured out, we’re all here to learn. Let’s settle into accepting our faults, and working toward making them better.
Where do we begin?
The answer has always been; compassion and love. And the best place to start is with ourselves.
Plant the Seed Within.
I once attended a 3-day silent meditation retreat in the magical mountains of North Carolina. Everything we did was done in the spirit of compassion and mindfulness. We walked with compassion for the ground beneath our feet, we chewed our food with mindfulness, we worked together, in love for the Earth. Everything was simple, perfect, and quiet. Four times a day we sat in meditation for one hour. Giving ourselves the love we needed to replenish our bodies and minds. The first day was really hard to get into a space of sitting in meditation for one full hour, 4x a day. But by day three—I couldn’t imagine life any other way.
I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to exist in that peace, and yet at the same time, I couldn’t wait to get home to share the brilliance of all that I’d learned. Even in the slow-down . . . I was ready to run. I’ve always been a runner. Never sitting still, always ready to go.
It’s true that I’m one to feel all the feelings. At times it seems even with one simple breath, I can feel the sorrow of the world, and while I’m grateful for this part of myself, I suppose that maybe that’s why I run? To get away from feeling.
But there I was, centered in compassion at a retreat far from home, and yet it was the closest to “home” I’ve ever felt. I was shown what it was like to slow down—to stop running, to look inside of myself and give myself permission to feel without judgment. In the process, I planted a seed.
That seed was compassion, and it grew to expand beyond myself.
We must realize that we are the ones in charge of leading the direction of our own lives, while also understanding the role we can play in another's—can we offer a smile, a hand, a hug? We can stand alongside someone else’s pain and not be submerged in it. We can offer a space of understanding, even while, at the same time, disagreeing.
While knowing all of the above, navigating the pandemic and the continuing social injustices over the past year has been one of the hardest lessons to date. In honest vulnerability, I’m here to admit that I still flounder like a fish out of water at times, and that’s okay. I don’t have to know all the answers to do my best. Sometimes my best was a middle finger and a passive aggressive “bless your heart” because it’s all I could muster. I didn’t want to stand alongside those that were spitting hate. I was angry and sad. But after each negative engagement, I found myself kicking myself for letting them get the best of me. I try to preach peace. I will always give love. But over the past year, I found myself slipping away from this narrative way too many times. While I’m grateful to have found a stronger backbone and a louder voice, I didn’t like the way that I felt.
I understand that getting uncomfortable needs to happen in order to grow, but I also desperately needed a way to cultivate compassion in the midst of chaos.
Just because someone thinks differently than me—do they still deserve love? Yes.
Do they still deserve compassion? Yes.
We only see slivers of another soul's journey on this planet, their actions are based on their experiences. Do I know their experiences? No.
Do I want to be on a team with them? No.
Can I wish the best for them? Yes.
When they double down on hate—we ground deeper into love.
I’ve found that the most hateful people are the ones that need the most love.
Their life has been traumatized so much that they can no longer see the light of love that they were born with. That’s sad to me.
So instead of focusing on the bad, I’ll do my best to remind them of their good.
I needed this perspective. My heart needed a space to be its authentic self—and as hard as it can be at times, my heart wants to love unconditionally.
And so does yours.
Compassion is inside of everyone. We’re born with it. Everyone is born with it.
Some may need help cultivating it so that they can give it freely. I reached out to a few friends and asked a simple question. The responses I received are beautiful. I thought that I would share them to offer perspective and encouragement. After all, we’re in this together, right?
“What does compassion mean to you?”
Carrie S.: Compassion is holding space that is open, empty, and loving—without attachment or agenda.
Sherre S.: Compassion is really trying to understand someone’s pain beyond your own experiences. Nora P.: Compassion to me means listening, and being what that person needs at the time. Nicole T.: Compassion to me is trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Distancing your interpretation of a situation and looking at it with an open heart and free from judgement. Kim J.: Compassion to me is recognizing when someone is hurting and then actively trying to help alleviate. Carly G.: Compassion to me means thinking about someone else and having empathy for their point of view. It’s loving someone for who they are, and where they are in their life’s journey, even though you may be in a different place in your journey. Tracy L.: Compassion to me is trying to relate to someone else’s situation and doing what you can to relate, even if you have differing views. Heather V.: Compassion to me is being able to meet someone exactly where they are with no
expectations. I feel you need to have both sympathy and empathy to have compassion.
Denise M.: Compassion to me is deep caring and understanding for someone or something.
Nathan Z.: Understanding.
May I ask you to take a moment to look inside your heart?
To ask the 6 year old you how to love, and if maybe they could use a hug?
Start from the beginning. Tend to any rips or tears that may have unraveled throughout your life—mend them with self compassion.
May I ask you to not look away from the hurting? To hold space for their existence with a simple smile or “Hello.” You don’t have to fix anything, simply acknowledge the space within them that also exists in you—their divinity.
May I ask you to ground into love? To remember your purpose, even in the times that it’s tested. “When they go low—we go high.” Not everyone is ready to extend compassion, that’s ok—you are.
May I ask you to give love to Earth and all of her creations? Help the bees, plant the trees, give love to all of creation as though it is a part of you.
Because, it is.
May I ask you to show up?
Be of service when you can. Always.
Holding a door open for someone could ripple into beautiful unfolding.
May I ask you to think of the children?
They are our future, and they are watching. Teach them how to love with your own acts of compassion and kindness. They’ll know what to do from there.
I’ve reflected on how much can change in 16 months—how my own compassion was muffled, but eventually restored by looking around me and having gratitude for those that extended their compassion to me—even on my ugly days. It’s changed me. It’s all changed me—for the better.
How do you define compassion? Once you define it—it’s easier to access it.