The Lost Art of COMPASSION

Having recently read this wonderful book I thought I would share some of my own key learnings and insights.  

The Author, Lorne Ladner, PhD is a clinical psychologist and also Centre Director of the Buddhist Centre in Northern Virginia. In this book he combines his background in western psychology with his in-depth understanding of Buddhist philosophy and shares with his readers ideas on cultivating compassion and other positive emotions such as love, joy and affection. 

In the western world today I know some schools are beginning to introduce concepts that teach students how to recognise their emotional state, and also to share strategies for how to cope with negative emotions and how to cultivate more relaxation and joy. However I think we still have a long way to go to before we ingrain into our culture how to differentiate our fluctuating emotional moods and how to recognise, cope with and utilise our emotional states. In our ever increasing fast paced society the need to slow down and appreciate ourselves and the people around us becomes more and more important. 

The Ego is the enemy

The main focus of this book are the teachings of Buddhist traditions and how they are focussed on developing happy and meaningful lives through practicing compassion. In the western world great value is placed on things that can be measured and counted and less so on things that are not quantifiable such as empathy and compassion. The ego is a common enemy when it comes to putting others before ourselves. When our needs and desires are met first then we push aside the needs of others others. By putting energy into meaningful activities we are much more likely to generate genuine peace and joy, and lead fulfilling lives. The author suggests many different Buddhist practices that enhance longterm wellbeing and happiness. 

Strategy for compassion

One suggested Tibetan tradition promotes a daily practice of gratitude. It suggests that we spend time each morning being thankful to be able to live another day. No person is guaranteed to live a long life, we could die in the night or this could be our last day. Simply showing gratitude for the day ahead means we appreciate it much more, and hopefully reconnect with our core life-values. This is something I personally try and do before bed. I reflect on the days activities and think about what I am grateful for and also how I would like to show up in the world tomorrow. 

Defining Compassion

Compassion is difficult to accurately define, Lorne suggests only the person giving compassion can truly know its authenticity and a genuine feeling in their heart, rather than out of external gain or meeting their own needs or desires;

“Compassion is a state of mind or of heart, it cannot be measured by a persons outward behaviour. It is not the behaviour but the state of mind motivating the behaviour that determine the presence or absence of compassion”. –Lorne Ladner

He goes on to give a more detailed understanding of his perception on compassion;

“I define compassion as a state of mind that’s peaceful or calm but also energetic, in which one feels a sense of confidence and also feels closeness with or affection for others and wishes that they may be free from suffering. This is real, healthy compassion, such compassion can be directed toward one person or any number of living beings”. 

Compassion is something we can all practice and actively seek in order to contribute to a kinder and more understanding society and way of life. I believe practicing compassion with ourselves is very important so that we can be more kind to ourselves and work out what is most valuable to our own experience. 

“You must have compassion for yourself before you can have genuine compassion for others”

This quite often leads to practicing compassion with others in a way that brings meaningful purpose to our lives and can enhance our longterm wellbeing. This is not a quick process, but with thoughtful, steady, and continued practice it can become deeply ingrained into our existence, and enhance how we live. 

This blog is just a very short introduction to the book, the Author describes many practices that can increase our capacity to cultivate compassion. Ladner also explains Buddhist philosophy in more detail, in particular, how desire and the ego can get in our way for genuine happiness. I have found engaging in short, regular practices of some of the techniques he explains helpful in recognising what is truly important and increasing my perspective. This has allowed me to keep working on building compassion for myself and others.  

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