The word “compassion” derives from the Latin words com (together) and pati (suffering or feeling).
This has generally been taken to mean the feeling of sorrow or deep pity for the suffering of others.
Compassion is not so much an uncommon word as an uncommon experience in Western culture. As a word, it is difficult to define. As an experience, it is often confused with pity and sympathy.
Compassion is neither an emotional nor a mental state, but a quality of consciousness beyond our everyday awareness.
Yet it operates through ordinary awareness. It can be likened to emotions, or rather to qualities of consciousness which relate to the emotions of passion, sympathy or love, feelings of regard for or toward another person.
Compassion is an attribute of the higher self or the soul.
In Western culture, the connotation of compassion has developed from concepts developed in the Old and New Testaments.
In more contemporary terms it can be described as follows
Compassion lets the other person know they’re not alone, that we’re connected, not isolated, that there’s another person who understands, who’s not judging anyone involved, and that no matter what they do, we’ll be there for them, supporting them to be where they most want to be.
Those who have compassion for others, support them to be free of regrets and guilt, resentments and blame, all fears that hold them locked into fixed and compulsive attitudes and behaviour.
Compassion supports genuine freedom, growth and evolution, unity with self and others; love.
The act of sympathy, and its refined cousin empathy, is the basis for a caring regard for others. We may feel consoled by sympathy and empathy.
To a degree, the distress felt in a painful situation may be cushioned by sympathy and empathy, but the distress remains. The essence of compassion, however, is that of a truly extraordinary quality of emotion.
Compassion transforms and makes whole the narrow and often painful personal experience. The recipient of compassion finds the experience virtually divine, a “gift from God.”
We can pray that we might be blessed with such a divine grace. Can we ever hope to exhibit truly toward others this exalted quality of love?
A Divine Quality
Implicit in the meaning of compassion is the idea of the divine source of this emotion. To achieve the capacity for compassion toward others, we ourselves must in some way become more fully affiliated with the Divine.
In order to do this, we need to follow a spiritual path and commit ourselves to following a spiritual lifestyle.
It may be noticed that the outward act of pity or of cultivated empathic behaviour doesn’t assure attainment of the quality of compassion. The conscious desire to be exalted in our emotion and dignified in our behaviour doesn’t necessarily result in the attainment of these goals.
With practice, we may become quite skilful in simulating the appearance of a spiritual demeanour and compassionate regard, but the experiential result is still short of the desired level.
As the aspiring artist may desire to achieve greatness but finds her creative strokes burdened by that desire, we too, are burdened with the self-consciousness of our imperfection. This same burden of imperfection is what we would hope the blessing of compassion would relieve.