Mercy is a very old word. It means forgiveness or kind forbearance shown towards another when in a position to harm or punish. Mercy, in essence, is LOVE responding to human need. The need for understanding, the need to be seen and heard, the need for redemption and the need for safety and security. So in a sense, mercy is not so much a state as it is a loving action.
Compassion asks of us a similar response. However, when I feel this word more deeply, I am asked to orient that loving action towards myself by cultivating an emotional sensitivity to my own needs. Compassion allows the soul to be directed into action through the suffering of others and self.
When I ponder the role mercy or compassion have had in my life, I fall short on inspiration. Compassion is something that is still mysterious to me. Being an empath, I have felt overly compassionate towards others because in my soul, I am here to serve and that has felt like a burden in moments of overwhelm or ingratitude. My grandmother, well, she was tough. She was the one who would just get up and get on with it. There was not much room for any vulnerability or compassionate enquiry at her kitchen table. This pattern of armoured stoicism was handed down through the females in my mother’s line.
So I’ve asked for help with this piece and chosen four of the most compassionate women I know to share their journey with compassion. Here are their stories.
I have learned from the eyes of compassion to set loving boundaries and show integrity to my own values.
When I’m triggered by something someone says or does, it’s so easy for me to fall into judgment, anger or, worse, shame. “I can’t believe she would say that to me!” I’m very reactive. But from my compassionate self, I know on a deeper level that we are all doing the best we can with the tools we have. And as I relate this truth to my childhood, I wonder whether my father purposely shamed me in front of my whole family when I was 15? Did my boss enjoy handing me my redundancy letter while apparently showing no compassion? From my compassionate awareness I don’t think they did.
My compassionate self won’t let you walk all over me either because this would show a lack of compassion for MYSELF. But here’s my biggest lesson: instead of judgement, I’ve learnt to give thanks, to have gratitude for this moment, this lesson and growth, and ask “What can I learn from this?” And maybe have some comfort in knowing that a time will come when a moment of struggle forces their own soul into learning what compassion really means – to forgive and give thanks.
Thank you Dad, thank you boss, for catalysing my own growth and teaching me about compassion.
Michelle Adams, Soultosoulliving.com
As I was putting my 10-year-old daughter to bed one evening, I thanked her for being one of my greatest teachers in life. Her face beamed into a proud smile, and she asked, “Who were your greatest teachers when you were at school?” Instantly the faces of three teachers appeared in my mind and I spoke of them to my daughter. Curiously, she asked, “What was it about them that made them so great?”
I knew straight away. It was their compassion. Feeling heard in their presence. Their gentleness. Their thoughtfulness and kindness. Amongst the softness, they still had a certainty about them and we still got the school work done! Even the toughest kids in the class showed up in a calmer, friendlier and more empowered way around these compassionate teachers.
Compassion holds the space for us to navigate the toughest of times and even the most challenging people. It asks that we remain present with all the different ways that life shows up for us: the pleasant, the unpleasant and even the downright ugly bits.
Like the legacy left by my three greatest school teachers, compassion asks that we respect all things and beings in a loving-kind way that avoids harm, including the way we treat our own self. Even adverse life events or people who we feel have harmed us in some way become our greatest teachers when we have true self-compassion. They have helped us to remember the practice of forgiveness and letting go, allowing us to return to having love for ourselves and others again.
Thank you to my greatest teachers for showing me the legacy that compassion leaves in this world and thank you to one special little girl for helping to remember it.
Erin Ashley, mindfulness, yoga and meditation teacher, https://erinashley.com.au
The etymology of ‘compassion’ is Latin, meaning co-suffering. So, compassion is being moved by someone’s vulnerability and suffering with a strong desire to help. It does not judge. It’s like the loving kindness that awesome parents have for their child.
It’s our ability to feel with someone else that empowers us to help our loved ones manage distressing experiences with grace. Our gift of presence honours the people around us. But compassion has a shadow side that’s pretty sneaky. It eluded me for 44 years! Here is what I’ve come to discover and untangle.
For years I’d been unconsciously taking responsibility for that which was not mine. I’d been doing this all my life with my family and in my career without realising it. Here’s why: as a kid, I witnessed my Mom and Dad separate. I was about four years old so I didn’t understand what was going on. To me, the two people I loved most and who were my whole world were no longer talking.
Then I saw my Mom, with me and my little sister to care for, plus a new partner. It seemed that she had the weight of the whole world on her shoulders. I loved her so much that I unconsciously decided to help her carry that weight. So at the tender age of four, I stacked on a burden of pain onto my back out of love, thinking it was helping Mom and, of course, having no idea that it would impact the quality of my life for the next four decades!
Mom is a beautiful, strong woman and didn’t need me to do that for her. She’d probably be shocked if she knew that’s my story. She moved on, but I continued to carry the pain unconsciously. So when I FINALLY faced the emotional impact of my parents’ divorce – the sense of loss, the whole-body sadness and deep grief – the pain started to dissolve. It was the cultivation of compassion for MYSELF that allowed me to grow as a woman, into a truly compassionate being.
Thank you, Shadow of compassion, for helping me give back that which is not mine. Thank you for freeing me. In the space left by the dissolved pain from my body, I now see me. I see my beautiful four-year-old self as the perfect being she is. I’ve told her she is free and amazing and able to do anything she sets her mind to. I’ve told her she’s here to evolve and to enjoy life to the fullest, whatever SHE decides that is for her.
Benay Dyor helps her clients remember who they are so they can get into alignment and gain clarity on their soul’s work. https://www.universalcoachingsystems.com/passion/
If I’m truly honest with myself, I have repressed my grief most of my adult life. In the times I have sought therapy, I am shocked at just how much sadness comes welling up in me. One thing I’ve learned is that I haven’t been very good at closing the chapters in my life like the ending of job roles, relationships, woundings and so on, choosing instead to skip over them and move toward the next sparkly distraction. But they do have a cumulative effect.
And now I find myself receiving chemo treatment amidst a global pandemic which has removed most distractions and forced me to sit smack dab in the middle of my grief. This is the VERY place an enneagram #7, (The Enthusiastic Visionary) avoids at all costs, choosing to avoid pain and uncomfortable situations for more pleasurable, exciting ones. Now the only choice I have is to meet my grief, face on and make peace for the first time ever.
THIS is my compassionate self in action, welcoming me home.
CINDY TURNER, Evolving Women
Questions to Help You
How do you embody your compassion?
a. Towards self?
b Towards others?
Where are you not being compassionate in your life?
a. Towards self?
b Towards others?
What does your soul need in order to become a more compassionate being?
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