Compassion for others begins with compassion for ourself
I am reading a remarkable book called The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, and, as with Coelho's The Alchemist, I'm a few decades late to the party. This classic bestseller has a wonderful exercise in the section on the Buddhist practice of tonglen. Tonglen translates to "giving and receiving," and it is based in compassion.
Pema Chodron tells us that in order to have compassion for others, we first must have compassion for ourselves. This message, this golden rule, is universally taught in all major religious texts. However, in spite of the simplicity of the message, it really does require effort to master. Nevertheless, it can be very helpful to anyone if you are just willing to give it a try.
But one of the most misunderstood parts of the golden rule is the loving yourself part. Having compassion for oneself. All the time. ALL the time. ALL THE TIME. And THEN, extending that compassion to others. Yeah. Not so easy. With that in mind, here is a very small excerpt with a practice that might be useful just for learning to have compassion for yourself, no matter what issues you are dealing with. You can work on the second part later. For now, though, try this, just for yourself.
For the purposes of this exercise, divide yourself into two aspects, A and B. A is the aspect of you that is whole, compassionate, warm and loving, like a true friend, really willing to be there for you, responsive and open to you without ever judging you, whatever your faults or shortcomings.
B is the aspect of you that has been hurt, that feels misunderstood and frustrated, bitter or angry, who might have been, for example, unjustly treated or abused as a child, or has suffered in relationships or been wronged by society.
Now, as you breathe in, imagine that A opens his or her heart completely, and warmly and compassionately accepts and embraces all of B's suffering and negativity and pain and hurt. Moved by this, B opens his or her heart and all pain and suffering melt away in this compassionate embrace.
As you breathe out, imagine A sending out to B all his or her healing love, warmth, trust, comfort, confidence, happiness and joy.
We all suffer. We suffer from pain, sadness, frustration, loneliness, fear. You suffer. You feel pain, sadness, frustration, loneliness, fear. Love yourself anyway. Learn to love yourself. When you do, that part of you that feels the love can release the hurt, the pain, the fear.