The Latin origin of the word compassion means to “suffer with.” While it can be useful to cultivate empathy, which is the ability to understand others’ feelings, it could be overwhelming and depleting to “suffer with” everyone we meet. Perhaps a healthier way to practice compassion is to first have empathy, understanding others’ perceptions (which may differ from yours), and then to allow them space to have their experience without trying to change it or fix it or take it on as your own. Compassion, then, may be redefined as meeting someone where they are while maintaining your own centered presence…in essence, practicing both compassion and self-compassion.
In mindful presence,
Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.