kindness

Is Compassion and Kindness the same thing?

One subject that we Mindfulness practitioners are often asked about is Compassion and Kindness. It is something that is often associated with spirituality and mindful living, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject.

Compassion is best defined as having concern and sympathy for the suffering of others. It is very different from being kind, it requires a level of self awareness that enables you to see beyond your own pain. Kindness on the other hand is the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate.

The challenge for those of us who are in a “caring” role or that are practising Buddhists is that people expectation us to always be kind, caring and compassionate. Whilst that is our aspiration, it isn’t always possible to step out of the ordinary human habit to be kind and compassionate at all times, we are just ordinary beings after all.

Compassion requires Wisdom

“Idiot compassion” is a term that the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to describe the type of compassion that is absent of wisdom. Another great Tibetian Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron puts it this way:

Idiot compassion refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering.

Compassion is giving someone what they need not what they want.

I felt compelled to write this short post because after working in a school for a while, it suddenly hit me what we are doing wrong, it is idiot compassion. We are not preparing children for the real world, we are not giving them what they need, we are giving them what they want and this is harmful in the long term and certainly not preparing them for real life.

In today’s society we chase all the pleasures and luxuries, avoiding any discomfort and hardship, even though life is surely a mixture of good, bad and ugly. We spend much of our lives running away from the unavoidable, instead of preparing ourselves for real life, one that is constantly changing and full of the unexpected. Life is just moments of joy with a mix of disaster!

As parents and teachers, should we not be giving our children the tools to deal with all that life will throw at them? Doesn’t real compassion mean we have to sometimes let our children and loved ones experience pain? How else will they be able to live a healthy life if they are never given the space to fail, to pick themselves up and become resilient adults?

Pema Chodron goes on to say that often we use compassion in a way that is harmful to others.

“Instead of offering a friend medicine, bitter though it may be when ingested, you feed them more poison at the very least, you don’t take it away from them”

What Pema Chodron is illustrating here is when we don’t say the truth in case we hurt someone, we don’t offer them what they really need and so we are not helping, we are just making it worse. This she says is not compassion, it is selfishness as we are more concerned about our own feelings than our friends. Real compassion requires courage, it is not about being a doormat, sometimes compassion requires you to stand for what is right. Look at people such as Gandhi, Martin Luther Kind and Nelson Mandela, they are examples of compassion in action.

Compassion and Mindfulness - The Stable Mind

Buddhism is often called the middle way, we learn to live with what is at any given time as best we can because it is the only moment that truly exists. As Mindfulness has it’s roots in Buddhism, we could say that it is also the practice of living “the middle way”. In other words, we live moment to moment, we don’t chase distractions such as short term pleasures and we seek happiness through a stable mind.

A stable mind is one that is not easily stirred by external events, it is a mind that even if thrown out of balance for a while, it comes back to a peaceful state relatively quickly. A stable mind doesn’t get lost in stories, it let’s them go without a struggle.

Someone with a stable mind knows when to say no, when to walk away and when a hard truth needs to be said. A really compassionate person doesn’t mind losing a friend in order to help them because real compassion isn’t about how we feel, it’s about what the other person needs.

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Mindfulness is not a quick fix

I’ve had a few interesting conversations recently about mindfulness. Some people are comparing mindfulness to the multi billion dollar self improvement industry which is a misinterpretation of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is not a quick fix.

Mindfulness is a practice that dates back centuries, it has the backing of some of the most prestigious universities in the world and has scientific evidence to prove it’s effectiveness on mental health and well being.

To become a mindfulness practitioner, to fully embody mindfulness takes hard internal work, it does not happen over night. Mindfulness does not pretend to mend you, it teaches self acceptance, self compassion and far more than I can cover in this short space.

Why is there an increase in stress, anxiety and depression, when there is so much self improvement advice available?

I’ve read every self development book published, starting from Anthony Robbins to Napoleon Hill and attended too many workshops and seminars to remember. There is no doubt that developing the ability to see things from a brighter perspective is better than always seeing things negatively.

However this constant high, always living in a state of positiveness is unsustainable because it is unnatural. Unfortunately life is made up of good, bad and ugly. The sooner we can come to terms with that the better it is for us.

Self improvement is always forward thinking:

“When I look better or get that better job or find that perfect person, life will be great!!”

So let’s improve our appearance because right now, right this minute I’m not good enough.

Yes let’s work hard to get that better job because the one we have right now is not enough.

Oh and when I meet that Mr or Mrs Perfect, life will be perfect because right now, being me and being with me is not good enough.

Always looking forward to when things get better or looking backwards to all the things we did wrong.

Until one day you break because you get what you thought would make you happy and yet it’s still not good enough. Or you keep aiming for something that is unobtainable until you just run out of life.

Hence the emotional sickness going around today.

To a degree the self improvement industry is to blame because it tells us to think positively, to turn negative inot positive, to think positive so that we attract positive things.

What do we do when things don’t go our way? How do we live with that?

Life doesn’t happen in the future or in the past. Life only happens in the now and before you even grasp that it’s gone.

So why is it so difficult for us to accept that now is good enough?

What would happen if we suddenly woke up to our life, today and said “hello, life is great right now!”

What would happen if we could embrace everything, the good, the bad and the ugly and just learn from every experience?

But what if life isn’t great right now?

I’d be naive if I didn’t acknowledge that of course some people’s lives are not great, some are barely living a life at all. Poverty, war, hunger, crime and horrific acts against humanity going on everywhere. But what does living in a state of anger, uneasiness and anxiety do to elevate any of this?

Perhaps instead of moaning about the state of the world and the way some people are forced to live, we lived our lives to the full and where possible we actually do something to help. Is that not more beneficial?

So if you are looking for a quick fix in life be warned, mindfulness is not going to fix you it’s going to wake you up to who you are. If that’s too hard to face, then perhaps come back to mindfulness when you are ready.

Compassion in action

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a Compassion in Action workshop at Samye Ling in Scotland. I had anticipated a lot of useful teaching but actually got much more than I had imagined.

“Compassion is kindness without judgment”

Sometimes I wonder why we find the most simple things in life so difficult to grasp and to apply in our lives. Mindfulness the practice of stillness, living in the present moment and developing a state of constant awareness, sounds easy but in reality it is challenging for most of us.

Compassion is kindness without expectations and conditions. It’s our natural state, we see that from watching babies and young children. They do not discriminate who they show love and kindness too, they don’t see colour, race, religion, gender and whatever else we use as a preference, they come with pure compassion built in. Over time we lose the capacity to be kind for the sake of it without a condition or judgement. Society, upbringing and all the other “stuff” fill us up so we are no longer able to just be compassionate without expecting something back.

Compassion – The only antidote to anger and aggression.

For centuries we have used aggression to fight aggression even though it only escalates the problem. We insist on sending armies in to other countries to fight and kill rather than deal with aggression with compassion in a peaceful way. What would really happen if we used compassion rather than aggression? Would we really be in more danger?

What can I do to change the world?

Sometimes we can get lost and overwhelmed when we hear news of tragedy and suffering like the current refugee crisis. We may feel a disconnect with society and lose hope, we can get into that state of seeing things as negative all around us.

The question is, who benefits from us becoming cynical and hopeless? It certainly doesn’t help those suffering. Moaning about a situation only fuels the negativity in us and others, it doesn’t change the situation.

Even the smallest act, whatever that might be will have a ripple affect. Our responsibility is to work on us, be the best person we can be, share our love, compassion and empathy. Help others regardless of who they are, judge less, moan less and act more. If we all did this, the world would be a much better place.

This video is a perfect example of compassion in action, it’s power is far greater than any act of violence and aggression.