All of the Compassion Practices follow a common set of principles and a broadly similar structure.
If you follow these principles you really can’t go far wrong – there are lots of different ways in which they can be applied – and we love hearing about people’s creative ways to bring them to life. All of the practices shared on this site have evolved over time and we welcome the development of new ways of applying the principles that feel right for your setting. We hope that understanding the principles will help you to implement the practices effectively and safely, and/or to develop your own applications.
The paradox that we have consistently found is that the structure of the practices, rather than being restrictive, creates the space, the freedom, the feeling of safety, the creativity and the equity of listening that are pre-conditions for liberating compassion.
In our work and research over the years, we have identified the following powerful Compassion Habits that run through all of the Compassion Practices and that complement the Principles:
with a quiet mind
from the heart
Closely linked are a set of organising principles for how to practise these habits:
- Making compassion a priority – holding space for each other and ourselves
- Creating a warm, welcoming, appreciative atmosphere to encourage a positive frame of mind
- Taking turns to speak and listen, in a circle if you are physically together
- Having equal time to speak so that all are heard and no one dominates
- Offering the option not to speak – people know it’s ok to pass when it’s their turn, and holding space for silence as well as talking
- Using respectful, inclusive and non-judgmental language
- Ensuring the practices are accessible so that they can be widely used; creating inclusive spaces and using inclusive language so that all feel welcome
- Encouraging self-care – turning towards our challenges in resourceful ways, whilst bringing compassion to ourselves
It helps enormously if you arrive to compassion work with the following mindset:
- Growth of self awareness – the foundation for compassion and self compassion
- Humble and inclusive intent – no agenda beyond the principles, and an understanding of the blind spots and biases that we have all been conditioned to have
- Love of community – the power of relationships to make things better
- An ERA mindset – generously seek to Encourage, Recognise and Appreciate others as they are: no need to rescue anyone, criticise or judge
- Harmony with nature – an appreciation of the planet on which we all depend
“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
Pema Chödrön (born 1936)