Compassion that balances self with others

Written by Pat Sullivan

compassion burnoutCompassion is a virtue until it saps you of all your energy. Successfully balance the needs of others against your own needs.

We naturally want to help others. Compassion is in our genes. But if helping others is dipping into your spiritual reserves, you may need to focus some of that nurturing attention on yourself.

The spiritual leader Ram Dass defines compassion in his book Compassion in Action as the "basis of all truthful relationship: it means being present with love and for ourselves, and for all life, including animals, fish, birds and trees." 

If you ignore your own needs, you won't be able to help others.
Be compassionate to youself. Stop criticizing.
You don't need to know what to do to help. Often, the situation will present the answer.
Listen to Your body. You may need a break.
The Art of Giving and Receiving
Notice that both self and others are included. When trying to help a friend or loved one, it's important to remember that if you ignore your own needs, you'll be unable to help anyone else.
If you've ever paid attention to airline safety drills, you'll see that parents are told to wear their oxygen masks before helping their children. Otherwise the parents could suffer an oxygen loss, jeopardizing them and their children.
When we take care of ourselves while serving others we tap into our deepest wells of insight and energy. As we give, we receive.
When trying to serve others, remember this simple advice:
  • The best time to start acting compassionately towards yourself and others (including the earth) is right now. Start simply with prayer or meditation.
  • Listen to your inner voice. Are you harsh on yourself? Do you criticize for the smallest of mistakes? You need to be compassionate towards yourself, before you can help others.
  • You don't have to know what to do before you begin to help someone. Often the best thing to do is simply be present, then wait for a request from the other or for inspiration from within.
  • Don't try to fix everything by yourself. Support the inner healing and growth of those you serve. Enjoy your service and invite others to come serve with you.
  • Ask yourself "What touches me here? How am I called to serve? How can I best support myself during this time?" Then follow your guidance by taking very simple steps.
  • Listen to cues from your body. If serving someone else is leaving you run-down or spiritually drained,take a break. Focus on your own needs until you feel strong enough to help others.

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