Compassion is a way of connecting the love and self-awareness within yourself to another person. Compassion is more than kindness; it’s a natural expression of kindness and understanding when you love yourself. Without a sense of love inside, compassion has no foundation in consciousness.
There is a path to loving compassion, as with any spiritual quality. The path has a beginning, middle, and end. Let me describe them to give you an idea of how the path unfolds.
You see yourself as wanting and needing love, usually more than you are receiving. You may feel insecure about being lovable, and so you love others according to how much they love you or appeal to your sense of romance, sexuality, and compatibility. Relationships involve a constant negotiation between what you want and what your partner wants. The words that apply to love at this stage include passion, attachment, dependency, romance, mutual need, liking, and compatibility. The seed of compassion remains a seed.
When you aspire to a higher kind of love, neediness and ego demands begin to count for much less. You feel that love can be a healing force that binds everyone. You can love someone else without needing anything from them. Such love begins to be more compassionate. It becomes more mature and peaceful. Relationships involve mutual appreciation; there are fewer conflicts between two defensive personalities. Quite often you find yourself freely bestowing the gift of love. The words that apply to love at this stage include kind, idealistic, calm, unselfish, giving, empathic, forgiving, and accepting.
When all limitations are left behind, love becomes unconditional and compassion flows as naturally as breathing. You feel that it emerges from a spiritual source inside yourself. This is more than a feeling; you've tapped into a universal aspect of Being. No longer do you have a personal stake in the people you love. Pure compassion is possible now and a sense of belonging to the human family. Relationships involve no struggle or competing needs and wants. Love becomes a self-sufficient state of fulfillment. The words that apply to love at this stage include blissful, transcendent, saintly, luminous, ecstatic, and boundless.
Looking at the beginning, middle, and end of the path, you don't need to judge where you belong. All of us have felt at least a few instances where we were perfectly loved and completely lovable. For most people, these times go back to childhood or a first romance.
How, then, do we regain such a state? The world's spiritual traditions have provided many road maps that share common elements. Here are seven steps to follow on the path to reach this kind of limitless love and compassion.
7 Steps of the Path
Step 1. Making contact with your inner self.
This means paying more attention to self-care. Through meditation, self-reflection, or contemplation, and the experience of quiet at least a few minutes every day, you make contact with your inner world. You learn to appreciate and enjoy it.
Step 2. Honestly facing your inner obstacles and resistance.
Most people don't like to face their weaknesses and flaws because they judge against them. But you're only human, and you'll find that your sense of insecurity and anxiety represents feelings from the past that can be healed. In fact, they want to be released if you will give them a chance. The first step in healing is to look inside and let the process of releasing begin. Healing can proceed along many avenues, from therapy and support groups to energy work, massage, mind-body programs, and various Eastern medical approaches.
Step 3. Dealing with old wounds.
One could also call this advanced healing. As old residues of negative emotions are released, you find that you are stuck with resentments, hurts, and scars that must be dealt with. Beneath the scar such wounds feel very fresh. It takes help from someone else who understands the situation to go into these dark places—it could be a close friend, mentor, confidante, priest, or therapist. No one can do this work alone, I feel, but I'm not underlining any sense of danger or fear. The work can be done safely, without anxiety, and once you start, there's a tremendous sense of exhilaration, even triumph in the process. Just find someone who has walked the path successfully and sympathizes with you fully.
Step 4. Forgiving your past.
You shouldn't jump too quickly into forgiveness. It's all too easy to pretend to yourself that you forgive old hurts and abusive treatment, when in fact what you're eager for is to escape the pain. The absence of pain, achieved through healing, gives you the right foundation for deep, lasting forgiveness. Self-acceptance is required first, and the realization that you—and everyone around you—has been doing the best they can from their own level of awareness. This can be quite a challenge when someone has hurt you deeply, but you can't fully separate from wrongdoing until you accept that others are trapped inside a reality they can't escape.
Step 5. Accepting where you are right now.
This, too, is a stage you shouldn't jump into too quickly. The present moment isn't free of the burdens, memories, and wounds of the past. They must be attended to before you can look around, breathe easily, and love the moment you're in right now. A good beginning is to catch yourself when you have a bad memory and say, "I am not that person anymore." For the truth is, you aren't.
Step 6. Forming relationships where you feel loved and appreciated.
The path to loving kindness isn't meant to be lonely. You should walk it with people who reflect the love you see in yourself. You're likely to look around at some point and realize that not everyone among your family and friends are in sync with your aspirations. Without rejecting them, you have the right to find people who understand the path you're walking and sympathize with it. They're more likely to appreciate you for who you are now and who you want to become.
Step 7. Giving the kind of love you aspire to receive.
Around the time I wrote a book called The Path to Love, I encountered many people who were constantly waiting for "the one" to show up and sweep them off their feet. But the only way to realistically find "the one" is to be "the one" yourself. Like attracts like, and the more you live your own ideal of love, the more your light will draw another light to you. This single point, I am told, has helped the most people find their love.
Finding compassion is natural. You were born to be perfectly loved and completely lovable. The loss of that status is what's unnatural. The path has been walked successfully for centuries, so I hope you take heart and join the fortunate ones who aspire this high. There is no better time to begin than now. Through compassion we overcome the perception of isolation or separation. We affirm our common humanity and shared consciousness in a world still desperately needing the touch of loving kindness.