Self and Other: A Brief Manual for Training Compassion

The following excerpt is part of a longer essay that was published as part of the Center for Humans and Nature’s Questions for a Resilient Future series, “mind and morality: where do they meet?”

Part of the difficulty with understanding compassion is that our tendency to “other” the people and external experiences in our lives clouds our connectedness. This Us-versus-Them, Self-versus-Other story may arise from antipathy and prejudice, but usually it’s just the result of indifference. This is where mindfulness becomes essential. A mindfulness practice can help us tune into our world with more presence and awareness. Mindfulness allows us to recognize the Us-versus-Them dynamic as a story we have been taught and that we continue to tell ourselves, not as a hard fact. Once we separate ourselves from the story, we can instead choose to let go of those divisions and begin to gain insight into our fundamental connectedness.

While we may be physically alone, or feel emotionally isolated, we can still choose to recognize, with mindfulness, that our lives are connected to all other beings. We can be both alone and deeply connected at the same time. Mindfulness allows us to accept this contradiction.


Image from Flickr by Christopher John SSF. Creative Commons License.