Awakening Compassion in Ourselves

Radical Acceptance:  Enhancing your Life with the Heart of the Buddha (pp 198-220)


The two wings of Radical Acceptance are wisdom and compassion.  Compassion means to be with, feel with, suffer with.  Bhante G. defines compassion as “the melting of the heart at the thought of another’s suffering.”

When we personally suffer we may have thoughts of fear, anxiety, anger, loneliness, and self-criticism.  Our bodily sensations include pain, headache, contraction, stomach upset, lassitude, and crying.  We may feel self-pity, feeling that what has happened to us is unfair.  This can lead to resentment or bitterness, and to feeling more isolated and alienated.

“Self compassion is feeling that what has happened to us is unfortunate, not unfair as in self-pity.  Self compassion is what helps us forgive ourselves when we’ve fallen short; it’s what prevents internal criticism from taking over and playing across our face….In this way, self-compassion is critical to emanating warmth.”  “Self compassion is how much warmth we can have for ourselves, especially when we are going through a difficult experience.”  It also helps preserve our connectedness to others.  Olivia Fox Cabane, The Charisma Myth (p. 84-85)

“Feeling compassion for ourselves in no way releases us from responsibility for our actions. Rather, it releases us from the self-hatred that prevents us from responding to our life with clarity and balance.”  Radical Acceptance P. 207

“I realized that genuine compassion can never come from fear or from the longing to fix or change. Compassion results naturally from the realization of our shared pain. It manifests as we grow out of our own sense of separateness, isolation, and alienation.” Bayda, Ezra. Being Zen: Bringing Meditation to Life


Holding Ourselves with Compassion

Kristin Neff, one of compassion’s foremost researchers, defines self-compassion as a three step process.  I have added a fourth step (#2):

  1. Mindfulness:  We are mindful that we are experiencing difficulties.
  2. Investigation:  We investigate through mindfulness the thoughts and bodily sensations that have arisen.
  3. Loving Kindness:  We respond with kindness and understanding for ourselves rather than being harshly self-critical.
  4. Connectedness:  We realize that what we are going through is commonly experienced by all human beings and that everyone goes through difficult times.

How do we respond with kindness?  We do it through the metta (loving kindness) practice.

Putting It into Practice: Metta (Loving Kindness)

The visualization below will guide you through a custom-tailored form of Metta, step by step. It has been crafted to take advantage of two instinctive human tendencies: our absorption of images and our respect for authority. If you’d prefer to hear a guided recording by Olivia Cabane, go online at and select metta.mp3 on the top row of audio selections.  Throughout this exercise, you may notice a certain rhythm created by the repetitions. That is indeed their purpose; just be willing to give it a try.

  • Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and take two or three deep breaths. As you inhale, imagine drawing in masses of clean air toward the top of your head; then let it whoosh through you from head to toe as you exhale, washing all concerns away.
  • Think of any occasion in your life when you performed a good deed, however great or small. Just one good action- one moment of truth, generosity, or courage. Focus on that memory for a moment.
  • Now think of one being, whether present or past, mythical or actual–Jesus, Buddha, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama–who could have great affection for you. This could be a person, a pet, or even a stuffed animal.
  • Picture this being in your mind. Imagine their warmth, their kindness and compassion. See it in their eyes and face. Feel their warmth radiating toward you, enveloping you.
  • See yourself through their eyes with warmth, kindness, and compassion. Feel them giving you complete forgiveness for everything your inner critic says is wrong. You are completely and absolutely forgiven. You have a clean slate.
  • Feel them giving you wholehearted acceptance. You are accepted as you are, right now, at this stage of growth, imperfections and all.

o   You are perfect. At this stage of development, you are perfect.

o   At this stage of growth, you are perfect.

o   At this stage of perfection, you are perfect.

o   With everything that’s in your head and heart, you are perfect.

  • With all your imperfections, you are perfect.
  • For this phase of growth, you are perfect.
  • You are fully approved just the way you are, at this stage of development, right now. Cabane pp 88-89


“Our practice is about the transformation of consciousness that makes compassionate responsiveness the default setting of our lives. Compassion requires both openness and equanimity. It requires learning to let things in without drowning in the difficulties and without being overcome by sorrow. It means learning to simply be with the truth of things as they are. This is the great gift of mindfulness that opens us to compassion. Being with the truth of what is present is what we do every time we open to our own pain or difficulty. As we practice opening to and coming close to the suffering in our own lives with compassion, we then have greater strength and courage to be with the suffering of others.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (pp. 327-328).


  • Reread this talk and reflect on it.
  • Practice holding yourself with compassion using the four steps of mindfulness, investigation, loving kindness (metta for self) and connectedness.  How does this feel for you?


  • Meditate as usual in your daily practice with concentration and mindfulness.

Next: Widening the Circle of Compassion I Previous: Opening Our Heart in the Face of Fear III