Topic #6.1 – Turning Compassion into Empathy

Reading Assignment:

Compassion: what is it? How do we practice it? How do we express it? Compassion is a big word in the yoga world, but what does it really mean?

The Latin origin defines compassion as “to suffer with.” The yogic interpretation of compassion aligns with this definition and enhances the definition to include a conscious effort to not run away, deny or pretend, but rather to stay present with the reality that suffering exists. A profoundly realistic and humane perspective that yogis embrace, often without question. We feel and want to reach out to others and show compassion.

If you have compassion, that can mean you have witnessed the suffering of others. But perhaps that witness was intellectual or imagined. In either case it is an authentic expression of desire to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes”.

Another word that gets combined with and confused with compassion is empathy. It is a step beyond feeling compassion to actualizing compassion. It is the ability to step into the feeling states of the sufferer and relate to their distress.

While compassion can fill our hearts and spirits with the urge to love, provide, or to help others. To be empathetic is to not only understand another’s feelings, but also to become one with that person’s distress; to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what they’re going through in that situation. Empathy is an ability; a tool that allows us to really understand another person’s experience as if it were our own. This is powerful. As yoga4cancer teachers, we must learn how to cultivate and wield this powerful tool of empathy, in order to best serve our students.

Please read the following article, Empathy Gadgets.