“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” This is a brilliant reminder from the respected Dalai Lama of our connection to ourselves and others. This is re- iterated by Pema Chödrön who says, our root of compassion is compassion for oneself.
Self-Compassion is a gift of wellness for our body and soul. The more we are able to treat our body and spirit with gentleness, the more tenderness and compassion we will call forth into our lives. As Jack Kornfield remarks in Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
According to the Yoga Sutras (1.33), one way to purify the mind and increase serenity is to practice compassion in the face of suffering. Compassion is a “shared feeling” tapping into heartfelt sympathy so that you can hold a space for another human being. Forgiveness is one of the highest forms of expressing compassion. Forgiveness liberates us to move into connecting with our higher selves. Self-forgiveness and self-compassion provide a place which allows us to move towards self-acceptance, where we can cope with the suffering that life offers us.
Our yoga practice helps foster self-compassion and a sense of calm, releasing tension and stress through our movements while being gentle with our body. And beyond the poses, using breathing can powerfully calm the mind from stress. Practicing our breathing during meditation can further deepen our self-compassion. This is where we hold a space for ourselves to let go of thoughts, stress and any stories that create suffering. This is where we create a safe place to be judgement free, to be gentle with ourselves. This acceptance is self-compassion. This allows us to move through the cloud of suffering and come out with more clarity and peace of mind.
The phenomenal Pema Chödrön, who has been a profound influence to many, including me, says, “Compassion isn’t some kind of self-improvement project or ideal that we’re trying to live up to. Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves, all those imperfections that we don’t even want to look at.”
Once we can tune into our own compassion, we can glean this virtue and extend it beyond ourselves. As the beloved Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi says, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Service can come in many forms. Quite often the word service conjures up images of serving in a soup kitchen, helping the homeless or flying off to a third world place and working on the ground. While all these and many others are incredible acts of kindness and compassion, the service I speak of could be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on or just acknowledging someone else’s suffering. We are not alone, compassion taps deeply into that sense of a “shared feeling” to lighten the burden.
In her book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, the wise Pema Chödrön says, “We don’t set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts.”
We all have different joys, sorrows and stories that we live out, but ultimately we are truly one. And sharing our movement, breath, energy and light is a profound and humbling experience. Service is a gift to our own heart. There are so many opportunities for us to serve our own heart and each other on this planet. The gifts to be shared are limitless.
On a personal note, as a yoga guide, when I offer my service I find myself lifted, enlightened and rejuvenated by shared energy. My heart is filled with much gratitude and my compassion and connections deepen.
- Afshan Haq, Yoga Instructor at Healthletica