Having compassion for others has three steps, and they are the same three steps that are necessary for us to have for ourselves. It has been my learning that for us to have compassion for others begins with a willingness to have compassion for ourselves in a balanced manner. So first let’s look at the three steps to get to compassion for others and then see how we can apply them to ourselves.
The first step is noticing the suffering of the other person. We can see the frustration, disappointment, pain or difficulty they are going through at the moment. If we ignore the other person or refuse to look at what is happening to them, it is not possible to go to the next step.
The second phase is when our heart is moved to want to take action to care for and help the person who is suffering. The word compassion has its roots in “suffering with,” so it is an appreciation for what they are going through and our desire to take action to relieve that suffering. This second step also involves showing understanding and kindness to another person when mistakes are made. We are not harsh in our criticism.
The third step is a culmination of the first two when we take action needed to help in the way that we are able; recognizing that all of us have and will suffer in many ways in our lifetime. We would appreciate any kindness shown to us; therefore we offer our kind acts to those we see who are challenged at the moment.
Imagine now these three steps applied to ourselves. When we have a difficult time, have had a failure or disappointment, have not lived up to what we would like from ourselves first we recognize the way we are suffering, and we admit that we are human. Just like others, we are not going to have everything go our way all of the time. Then instead of criticizing ourselves with harsh words, thinking of ourselves as a failure or not able to accomplish the thing we failed in, we ask ourselves what virtue do we need at this time for this situation and act in a way to care for our needs.
The reality shared by all humans is that we have limitations and fall short of who we would like to be. The more we are willing to open ourselves to this reality instead of fighting against it, the more we will be able to feel compassion for ourselves.
The practice of compassion for ourselves along with the understanding that all humans need and appreciate being shown compassion will help us grow this virtue and bring all of us into a peaceful existence with each other.