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Mindfulness and Compassion

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Thich Nhat Hanh

A dear friend is suffering. Many people around the world are suffering. When I think about all the suffering going on in the world, including my own, I notice the sadness, sorrow, helplessness, and even anger come over me. I want the suffering to stop. These feelings are natural and deserve to be honored rather than pushed down, ignored, or drowned in unhealthy coping mechanisms. Mindfulness helps us notice, honor, and investigate the roots of these feelings.I can breathe in and out mindfully and create space for them. I can observe them changing, getting stronger or weaker as they move through me. These feelings are natural but not helpful. If I want to do something about the suffering, mine and that of others, I have to move from these feelings to compassion. Compassion is feelings of warmth, concern, care, and a strong motivation to improve the wellbeing of others. Compassion is feeling for rather than feeling with (Dowling, 2018) 

When asked about the burden of seeing the suffering of the world, Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh answered: “When you have compassion in your heart, you suffer much less. And you are in a situation to be and to do something to help others to suffer less.” Compassion helps us care and motivates us to help ourselves and others. But in order to cultivate compassion, it is important to cultivate understanding. According to Thich Nhat Hanh, compassion is possible only when we have understanding. Mindfulness helps us change our perspective and cultivate understanding.

As I keep breathing in and out, I slowly move away from the feelings of sadness, grief, sorrow, helplessness, anger.I open my hurting heart and send loving kindness and well wishes to myself, my dear friend, the person who fixed my classroom door at school whose name I don’t know, those who are suffering everywhere in the world, and then to all beings. The more I practice, the more I realize that we are all interconnected and interdependent, that being compassionate to others is being compassionate to myself and vice versa. Compassion motivates us to ask: “What can I do to lessen the suffering?” and in answering, we translate compassion into action.

If you want to learn more,check out our podcast episode “Goals and compassion” where you can learn more as well as you can practice with a guided loving-kindness meditation. 


Dowling T. (2018). Compassion does not fatigue!. The Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne, 59(7), 749–750.

“Remembering Thich Nhat Hanh, Brother Thay.” The On Being Project, https://onbeing.org/programs/remembering-thich-nhat-hanh-brother-thay/. Accessed 29 Mar. 2022.

Image used by permission, Duc (pixiduc) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

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