Compassion for ourselves and each other can be our guide to true liberation.
I saw compassion early. I saw it in the way my mother would make me give away any toys I had to the kids in the hospital in her care who were struggling—who maybe didn’t have the things we had, even when we barely had anything ourselves. I saw it in the way my father would find random items in the streets and bring me those items after he washed them, because all he had was his paltry Social Security check from his days as a decorated Vietnam war veteran and it just wasn't enough so he had to supplement it by picking cans. I saw it in my parents love and in their fight, and in the way that they tried to show up for their children as best as they could. It went beyond empathy—that shared feeling that we carry for those we care for—and went into the space of caring and, really, compassion, a place that goes from feeling to tangible change.
When I am too tired to show up beyond what feels like the capacities of my heart, I lean on the work of my most compassionate self to find my way through the mess and drudgery of this life. Compassion is love in action. It compels us to do when we have placed our faith in what can be imagined.
When my friend Sharon Salzberg, the author of Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World, sat down for her podcast, she explained compassion to me in a way that helped to solidify the thoughts that had been floating in my head but I had yet to put words to: compassion is putting into action the feeling that arise from our empathy. Empathy, for all intents and purposes, is really the baseline; it lives as table stakes for the work we do—both on the inside of us and outside in the real world, coloring all of our day-to-day actions.
We know what a lack of compassion looks like—we see it every single day. We see it on the news. We see it on social media. We see it in the streets. We may even see it in our own homes. Often, the reason for this void in the world around us stems directly from the lack of compassion we feed ourselves. We spend so much time directing angst, anger, hurt and hate towards our own thoughts of not being good enough, smart enough, talented enough or wealthy enough, that we are in a constant state of FOMO of the mind and of the heart. Our media-fed compulsions have become the birthing ground for all of our suffering, which feeds into the vicious cycle of self-torment—a cycle that we embody and take with us into our workplaces, our churches, our mosques, and our homes.
When we can show compassion for ourselves—our flaws, our failures, and falls—we open the door for it to show itself in the world. Compassion allows us to engage with each other in a more healthy and holistic manner, giving us all the freedom to see each other within the context of our own healing journeys. It's not only a gateway to living a full and joyful life, but it serves as the gateway to our liberation.
Joél Leon is a father, dreamer and storyteller. Follow him @joelleon.