Word of the Month: Compassion

In her book Radical Acceptance, meditation teacher Tara Brach defines compassion as “our capacity to relate in a tender and sympathetic way to what we perceive.” What is it that we are perceiving? Usually when we talk about compassion, we are perceiving the suffering experienced by people or by animals. Compassion can be viewed as genuine caring about the suffering of beings.

It’s important to be clear on what compassion is not. It’s not pity or feeling sorry for someone. Compassion has more depth than that. Also, compassion isn’t only something we can direct at other beings; we can have compassion towards ourselves as we deal with our own struggles.

Compassion often leads to a desire to take action to alleviate suffering. We might feel that we need to constrict our compassion because we can’t solve everyone’s problems. However, there are all kinds of ways to act compassionately. Sometimes it can be as simple as sending out good wishes and thoughts to those who are suffering. In other cases, just listening to someone who is going through a rough patch can be a deeply compassionate act. And in other situations, we may choose to direct some of our resources to charitable organizations that are coordinating relief efforts following a natural disaster such as a tornado or typhoon. Each of these acts can be a meaningful way to address some of the suffering in the world.

See more features from the February 2014 issue