What is compassion?

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. -Rumi

I was out walking Linda recently when a man approached us, and struck up a conversation (with me, not with her). He said that he was thinking of getting a dog, but wasn’t sure it was the right thing for him. He asked a bunch of questions about the responsibilities and commitment required.

This is Linda!

As we got to talking, I shared some of the experiences of having Linda in my life (lots of love and affection, but also lots of poop, vomit, allergies, and shedding). At the end, he said “you sound like a very compassionate person. I don’t really understand compassion. I try to be caring, but I just don’t feel anything. I don’t really care about other people the way I think I’m supposed to.” The old me would have been shocked at such an admission, but the new me seems to bring out this kind of thing in people. I took the opportunity to thank him for sharing his honesty with me, and I shared what I know to be true with him.

Here’s the thing: you can’t force yourself to be compassionate, just like you can’t force yourself to love. You can’t fake it. The truth is that at the core, you are loving, caring, kind, and compassionate, we all are. But those aspects of you are blocked at the surface. You cannot experience the feelings of compassion when you are living in a state of separation (more colloquially understood as “looking out for number one.”).


When you start to look within, when your self-awareness grows, you start to see that you operate on fear and avoidance most of the time. This looking inward must be done gently. It must be both brutally honest, but also incredibly kind. You must hold a space of compassion for yourself. You must remember that you were doing your best in any given moment. (Not your best in hindsight, but in the moment, you did the best you could, always).


When you get into the core beliefs that you hold, you see that you are a wounded and scared little kid. Then you start to see all the patterns of behavior (coping strategies) you’ve developed to alleviate future pain. As you come to know yourself, you come to see the same patterns of behavior in others. You see that we are all just protecting ourselves in a big scary world. It is in that moment that you develop compassion for others. It is when you actually see your own suffering, that you can understand their suffering. You realize that there’s nothing to judge. They too are doing the best they can.


For all the dog-lovers in the audience, no animals were harmed in the making of this post. I told this man that he must work on his own stuff before getting a dog. Getting a dog will not show him his compassionate heart, or heal any of his suffering. I think he heard me.