Despite the ego’s natural state of fear, humans have a great capacity for compassion. Our interconnectedness with Spirit, Mother Nature, and other human beings allows for the benevolent feelings to arise from our souls. The human heart’s natural state is compassion.
Our brains are wired to connect with others using mirror neurons. Through these specialized nerve cells, our empathy is activated, and we feel the emotions of others. This circuitry connects our brains with every personal encounter we have. So our bodies are naturally compassionate.
Watch toddlers at a playground, and we can see that they naturally care about others’ well-being. But as we age, cynicism enters our lives. We become less sympathetic toward others as we allow the egoic fears to rule our existence.
The foundation of the Buddha’s teachings lies in compassion. The reason for practicing the teachings is to wipe out the persistence of ego, the number-one enemy of compassion. ~ Dalai Lama
The Myth of Human Selfishness
Humans are not self-centered creatures. The ego is. It’s the egoic mind that causes people to be greedy, unkind, and competitive. Its need to keep us safe means that the ego perpetuates lies, innuendos, and half-truths to keep us in its control.
What lies and disguises does it wear? Most of the negative chatter in our heads are inaccuracies of the ego. For example…
- I don’t deserve it.
- I’m not worthy of love.
- Everyone is greedy.
- What do they want from me?
- If I show my feelings, others will think I’m weak.
- Competition is normal.
- It has to be perfect.
- I’m not smart enough.
- They’ll hurt me.
- I don’t have time.
- Others will think I’m crazy if I move towards my dream.
- It will never work out for me.
- I’m not pretty enough.
- I can’t….
These are the ego’s words as it tries to keep us from growing and expanding because it wants to keep us small. The goal of the ego is to keep us separate from others. This false belief that we are separate is the most significant harm we perpetrate on ourselves.
In separateness lies the world’s great misery, in compassion lies the world’s true strength. ~ Buddha
Is there a Biological Component to Compassion?
Recent studies show that our emotions are coherent, practical, and adaptive. They are part of humanity’s evolution for society’s greater good. It first begins with parents and their offspring as our brains attune compassionately to our children.
Yet this concern occurs not only with loved ones. Another study shows that if we watch harm being done to others, the same region of the brain activates like when we look at our child, as indicated in a CAT scan.
So seeing our children or victims of violence causes our brains to respond with empathy, even though they are very different subjects. So compassion isn’t a frivolous or unreasonable emotion, but instead, an instinctive human response wired into our brain.
Further research shows that the feeling we have when we help someone is the same emotion we get from personal gratification. Our brain rewards us with positive emotions like pleasure and joy when we help others.
So when we are compassionate towards others, our bodies have a physiological response. Our heart rate decreases, it releases oxytocin, which makes us bond to others. And being sympathetic towards others motivates the body to be more compassionate, to release more oxytocin. So, our body’s natural state is to be loving to one another.
Compassion is the antitoxin of the soul: where there is compassion, even the most poisonous impulses remain relatively harmless. ~ Eric Hoffer
So What is Compassion?
Is it the same as empathy or altruism? Not necessarily. Empathy is the ability to understand and share another’s feelings. Feeling the excitement or tearing up at another’s sadness. Altruism is the practice of self-sacrificing for the well-being of others. Examples are monetary donations to a worthy cause, volunteering, or giving your lunch to a homeless person. Compassion is an emotional response to others’ sufferings with the authentic yearning to help alleviate their pain.
Our first impulse is to help others. But the ego interferes with this natural instinct by getting concerned with how others will perceive our act of kindness. Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man that the communities with the most sympathetic participants would flourish best.
Compassion soothes distress and helps to forge the vital connections we need with others. With a simple touch, caress, or a pat on the back, we can convey our concern to another. And this simple act triggers the release of oxytocin, which makes us feel good.
Compassion and pity are very different. Whereas compassion reflects the yearning of the heart to merge and take on some of the suffering, pity is a controlled set of thoughts designed to assure separateness. Compassion is the spontaneous response of love, pity, the involuntary reflex of fear. ~ Ram Dass
What are the Benefits of Being Compassionate?
A study has shown that living a life with a purpose focused on helping others over self-satisfaction has shown reduced stress and inflammation levels in the body. Inflammation is the root cause of most diseases. So, compassion protects us from stress and allows us to live a longer, healthier life.
Being sympathetic gives us a broader perspective. It takes our focus off of us, which eases depression and anxiety. When we are helping others, we open our hearts and allow the bigger picture to be seen. This new viewpoint can help us with our own life situations.
Social connections with others boost our feelings of well-being. We are less likely to feel anxious or depressed. We have higher self-confidence, are more trustful and supportive. These associations strengthen our immunity, help us recover from illness faster, and lengthens our lives.
Compassion is not sentiment but is making justice and doing works of mercy. Compassion is not a moral commandment but a flow and overflow of the fullest human and divine energies. ~ Matthew Fox
How do we Cultivate Compassion?
According to AmeriCorps, 30% of Americans volunteered in 2018. What causes people to foster an animal, help a sick neighbor, or serve dinner at a shelter? Maybe it’s because when we see others in distress, we imagine ourselves in the same situation and would like to know that others would help us too.
As we develop, if we feel secure in our family, we will be more sympathetic towards our peers. When children are explained why their actions were wrong, and how it affected others, the child is more likely to help people in the future. These kids have developed more compassion for humanity as they are more conscious of others’ suffering and desire to ease their pain. Of course, parents who taught compassion by being an example; their children were more altruistic.
Mediation is an excellent way to cultivate compassion. Going within, letting go of the ego, and allowing our hearts to lead, compassion quickly arises. This natural response occurs because, through contemplation, we increase our positive feelings and reduce negative ones. Physiologically meditating enhances those areas of the brain that are linked to empathy and improve emotional management.
Compassion is more important than intellect in calling forth the love that the work of peace needs and intuition can often be a far more powerful searchlight than cold reason. ~ Betty Williams
Let’s Consciously Develop Compassion
To mindfully choose to grow our compassionate side, we have to look at our prejudices. Our biases cannot play a part if we are genuinely acting to alleviate the sufferings of others. Humanity has made huge developments over time, showing that hatred is not the dominating factor in its advancement. Maybe it’s our compassionate nature.
We all can see that humans want to be happy. And we can empathize with that desire. By keeping this altruistic sense at the forefront of our minds, we can begin to put aside the egoic thoughts that hinder ourselves from acting compassionately.
Anger towards a group of people is one deterrent to our helping others in distress. By examining our anger, we can determine if the ego is trying to control our actions. Have we had a negative personal experience that the egoic mind is basing its anger? Or are we reacting to what the media and entertainment industry has fed our minds for years?
Another way the ego limits our compassionate response is by exploiting our fear. It uses our lack of knowledge about a group of people to keep us afraid of them. This unfamiliarity occurred with the Native American populations when Europeans found the Americas. History shows us that fear of the unknown caused widespread death, cultural assimilation, and relocation of Native Peoples.
With compassion, we see benevolently our own human condition and the condition of our fellow beings. We drop prejudice. We withhold judgment. ~ Christina Baldwin
How Does the Media and the Entertainment Industry Feed our Fears?
When we see acts of violence on the news, the ego gets its hackles up. It sees the danger and wants to protect us. While watching a violent movie or television show, the same thing occurs, although we know that what we choose to view is not real. Why do we think watching acts of violence is entertaining? It’s not to our authentic selves, but it is enjoyable for our egos.
Remember, the egoic mind doesn’t care if the threat is real or imaginary. To the ego, it has to protect us. If we aren’t examining why we are fearful when we see someone who’s been portrayed as violent in mass media, our automatic reaction will be fear because that is what we fed it.
So, because our egoic mind sees brutality all around it in electronic form, it believes it’s a real danger. We’ve inadvertently fed it a consistent amount of hostility, bloodshed, viciousness, and savagery. So much so, we now believe that the world we live in is sadistic.
Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t real cruelty in the world. Still, when we consume violence as a leisure activity, we heightened the egoic mind to see it in our daily lives.
In spiritual maturity, the opposite of injustice is not justice but compassion. ~ Charlotte Joko Beck
How Do We Learn to Love our Enemies?
For us to become more compassionate, we can’t turn to our friends. We have to deal with whom we think is our enemy. Those people in our lives that push our buttons or the ego have determined they are out to harm us.
Our first lesson comes through tolerance. Our ability to accept others just as they are is essential to building our compassion muscles. Again, we must examine what the egoic mind has been showing us about who it calls an adversary. Are the beliefs based on what we’ve seen via mass media or personal experience? If so, how long ago has the particular event occurred?
For example, three Hispanics sexually abused me when I was a child. So my ego, in its attempts to keep me safe, wants me to be fearful of Hispanic men. But that trauma occurred forty years ago. And since then, I’ve had wonderful experiences working with Hispanic men. By examining these ideas, I can determine that I have had more positive interactions with Hispanic men than negative ones. Any fears my ego is trying to instill are no longer needed, and I can unlearn this outdated belief.
Learning to love who our ego calls foe is about altering our perceptions. We need to explore why the egoic mind interferes with our compassionate response to a fellow human being. In doing so, we allow the heart to speak based on information from the present moment. We don’t allow the past or what the media is dispensing to determine our actions.
The moment we understand our enemy, we feel compassion towards him/her, and he/she is no longer our enemy. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
How Do We Trust the World Around Us?
Look around us. Really look. As we walk down the street in the town we live in, aren’t the people we see just like us? We’re all multifaceted, imperfect, and kind-hearted individuals trying to live our lives in peace.
What acts of kindness and concern do we see from one another? Someone is holding the door open for the elderly. Another person is helping a lady with the packages she’s dropped. Did you notice the man paying the teenager’s bill’s because he didn’t have enough money for his lunch? There are more acts of compassion and trusting one another than there are hate and brutality if we just allow ourselves to see them.
By opening our eyes, we confirm what our hearts have been telling us. There is love all around us each day. By trusting in humanity instead of believing the egoic fear of mankind is correct, we can begin to heal ourselves and our communities.
Compassion is the desire that moves the individual self to widen the scope of its self-concern to embrace the whole of the universal self. ~ Arnold Toynbee
What are Some Simple Actions We Can Take to Dispel the Egoic Fear?
We can cultivate our compassion and support for humanity. Developing trust and love for our fellow human beings isn’t difficult, even when we are bombarded by mass media telling us otherwise.
Through mindfulness, we can refocus our attention to see the lovingkindness of people around us. Getting quiet and meditating is a beautiful way to center ourselves and realign with Spirit. Through silence, we empower ourselves to live authentically from our hearts.
Learn to have a genuine conversation with whom your ego calls our enemy. This talk isn’t about agreeing on anything. It’s about being able to see the other person’s perspective. It’s showing respect by allowing each person the opportunity to speak and be heard. Don’t make assumptions. Ask for clarification so understanding can occur. We also need to learn how to listen to one another. No interrupting.
And please don’t use social media as a place to express frustrations. Doing so passes on the negativity to others and feeds the egoic mind. This venting is not the way to help nurture our communal bonds. It just rips them apart.
Compassion and nonviolence help us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear their questions, to know their assessment of ourselves. From their point of view, we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition. If we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers and sisters who are called the opposition. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Why is Helping Others Contagious?
Inspiration causes elevation of the Spirit. So when we see an inspired act of service, it elevates our hearts to want to help. And our act of compassion inspires others to perform considerately, too. There is a chain reaction of generosity, which we can see in the pay it forward activities in drive-throughs. When we see others’ happiness, it also improves our own, thereby improving our communities.
We all need love. It’s a common denominator for humanity, no matter our differences. By allowing the ego to give attention to the 1% of our differences, we negate 99% of our similarities. Allowing our egoic minds and the media to determine how we interact with one another is senseless.
As a society, we need to move out of the ego’s self-centeredness. This self-absorption causes deception, suspicion, and fear. For us to transcend our fear-based egos, we need to open our hearts. This opening act allows the Soul to speak to us and show us the commonalities we have with others, even those we think are our enemies. It’s as simple as being kind to all we meet.
It is lack of love for ourselves that inhibits our compassion toward others. If we make friends with ourselves, then there is no obstacle to opening our hearts and minds to others. ~ Dalai Lama
Moving Forward by Living a Compassionate Life
The fear of others is born from the egoic mind. When we live from the heart, we know there is no need to fear another human being. When we treat everyone as a trusted friend, that is what they become. Because when we give love from our hearts, love is returned to us tenfold. This loving response is how we heal ourselves and the world we live in, one compassionate act at a time.
Compassion is the ultimate and most meaningful embodiment of emotional maturity. It is through compassion that a person achieves the highest peak and deepest reach in his or her search for self-fulfillment. ~ Arthur Jersild
As we become more conscious of how the heart’s natural state is compassion, we can take control of our lives by seeing the love that is always around us.
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