The Power of Compassion in How to Be Happy & Healthy

– the Seven Natural Elements of Mental Health

“I love the chapter on compassion. Life gives all of us suffering. No one has an easy trip: whether it is the pain of loss, physical pain, various kinds of trauma – we all suffer. The point Higgins is making is that if you accept suffering it is not so bad, and also it can have real meaning…We can only grow through suffering when we accept it. As Higgins says, if you learn to love yourself, your real self, then the love spreads elsewhere. Compassion is love. But it is not enough just to love. We need to become love.” Professor Ivor Browne

Front cover of How to Be Happy & Healthy – the Seven Natural Elements of Mental HealthHow to be Healthy and Happy: The Seven Natural Elements of Mental Health was launched in Hodges Figgis on 10th July 2014. See here for my introduction to my chapter on compassion for the individuals of all species, not just humans. See also Professor Ivor Browne’s launch of the book.

Compassion focussed therapy is proving effective for a wide range of psychological difficulties. It is especially effective for people who have crippling levels of inner shame and harsh self-critics.

Compassion cannot eliminate suffering but it helps us to bear it with courage and equanimity. Lives are transformed when we treat ourselves as we treat those we love.

Compassion is necessary because life is difficult. Every living being suffers. From the moment of birth we have obstacles to overcome in order to survive. Everyone makes mistakes. Experiences of disappointment, loss, sadness, grief, anger and fear are universal. Few of us go through life without losing those we love. Everyone risks suffering from serious injury and illness and everyone faces the prospect of death.

There is nothing wrong with you because you suffer.

There is something wrong with societies that suppress compassion

Societies that teach us that if we work hard enough we can buy attractiveness, success, and popularity and avoid suffering.

Societies that teach us that resources are so scarce that we need to dominate or exploit other humans and other species so that we can be the best, come first, and have the most.

Many of the very things we work so hard to attain are not even necessary for wellbeing. The hours in our lives are precious: we owe it to ourselves to spend them wisely. Just simplifying our lives is an act of compassion.

It is not necessary for others to suffer for our health and happiness. The fruition of Compassionate Mind Training must be the inclusion of all sentient life in our circle of compassion. One of the most powerful practices in Compassionate Mind Training is Loving Kindness Meditation. Yet, as Thích Nhất Hạnh says Compassion is a Verb. It is not enough to wish compassion towards all sentient life. It is vital that we include them in our circle of compassion by ceasing to participate in the practices that harm them. Veganism seeks to eliminate the products and practices that cause others (human and other animal) to suffer. It embodies reverence for life and compassion for all. It is the full expression of Ahimsa.

We are united with all other lives in a common goal: avoidance of suffering and attainment of wellbeing. This is true of me and of you; of the people close to us and those we do not know; of those we admire and those we dislike. It is true of every sentient animal on the planet. It is the notion of difference and the illusion of separateness that suppresses compassion and enables cruelty and indifference to foster.

Every being on earth makes a difference to others. We can enrich ourselves and others, leaving the world a more compassionate place; or we can leave a trail of hurt and harm, not because we were cruel, but because we were unthinking and mindless.

Compassionate living changes our psychological makeup, spreading kindness, tolerance and justice from one generation to the next.

It can dramatically affect the outcome of our evolution.

It can literally change the world.