If you hang out with spiritual people (and you do), you’ll hear a lot of talk about compassion. Supposedly, it’s pretty awesome. If we can just practice infinite compassion for all beings at all times, we’ll reach enlightenment and all dance around as joyful radiant beings of light.
Take this Dalai Lama quote, for example:
“We must each lead a way of life with self-awareness and compassion, to do as much as we can. Then, whatever happens we will have no regrets.”
Does that make you feel peaceful? If so, you can stop reading now, and pass this article along to a friend who suffers from Infinite Compassion Syndrome.
If the quote makes you feel anxious, and makes you question whether you’re truly doing as much as you can, then I’m talking to you.
“Judge nothing, you will be happy. Forgive everything, you will be happier. Love everything, you will be happiest.” – Sri Chinmoy
Sounds great in theory, right?
But would you give this advice to a woman in an abusive relationship?
Would you tell her to forgive, to let go of judgment, and to love no matter what?
I would tell her to get the hell out.
Then, much later, when her wounds had healed, I would encourage her to forgive, to let go of judgment, and to love no matter what.
Yes, to love no matter what – but to love from a distance.
To open her heart without opening her life, without opening her wallet, without opening her body.
Here is what you must, must, must remember:
You can love without hurting yourself.
You can love someone without letting them wreck your life.
You can practice compassion in your heart without being physically present.
You can forgive, but not forget.
You can feel sorrow for the children suffering across the world without forcing yourself to watch documentaries about them.
You can be a radiant being of divine light without watching the news.
You can love from afar instead of up close.
You can love without hurting yourself.
Sometimes you get so wrapped up in practicing compassion for others that you forget to practice compassion for yourself.
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” – Jack Kornfield
And we’re not just talking about feeling compassion for yourself, we’re talking about acting on it, too. That means holding healthy boundaries. That means loving yourself enough to say no. That means loving yourself enough to take care of yourself.
Good care of yourself, not just the bare minimum.
“Be gentle first with yourself if you wish to be gentle with others.” – Lama Yeshe
Remember, you’ve got to build the bottom of your pyramid before you can build the top.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, image by cityblogger
Transcendence is at the very top. This includes practicing compassion for others.
Taking care of yourself is at the very bottom. Take care of your biological and physical needs. Take care of your safety needs. Take care of your belongingness and love needs.
“It is lack of love for ourselves that inhibits our compassion toward others. If we make friends with ourselves, then there is no obstacle to opening our hearts and minds to others.” – Unknown
Once your needs are met, you’ll be able to practice compassion for others wholeheartedly.
If practicing compassion makes you feel drained instead of joyful, you’re doing it wrong.
That drained feeling is a sign that your lower-on-the-pyramid needs are not being met. Slow down, and take care of yourself before taking care of others.
Maybe someday you’ll attain enlightenment and be able to practice infinite compassion toward all beings 100% of the time.
And if not, that’s okay. Turn some of your compassion around and let yourself receive it.
It’s okay to be where you are right now. It’s okay to be your perfectly imperfect self. It’s okay to feel the way you feel, right now.
You are enough, just as you are.
“If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. You will not be able to love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able to develop compassion for others.” – The Dalai Lama