The Meaning of Compassion

What does it mean, to practice compassion? That is for you to explore. Steps to cultivate compassion exist in many traditions. Every healer, every health care provider, will be asked repeatedly to decide how much to open up to the people who seek their care. In truth, it is asked of us every time we walk into a hospital room or an exam room or into any healing encounter.

Perhaps if we describe some qualities, such as equanimity, as states of mind, it would be more appropriate to describe compassion as a “state of heart.” Or perhaps, more generally, a “state of being.” Certainly it can be cultivated, but unlike communication skills where one can review steps to follow, compassion seems to arise in more complex ways.

Perhaps the most important step in being more compassionate is simply to resolve to do so.

Where does love fit in to healing?

Resources – General resource about all things linked to compassion. Consider taking their survey… – seven practices to awaken compassion, from the Zen tradition.… – University of Wisconsin Integrative Health Handout related to forgiveness; can be offered to patients… – Loving kindness meditation handout, which can be shared with patients. – sponsors research into compassionate health care – nice links on a number of topics – The list of citations at the bottom of the abstract featured in this link offer excellent readings about the physician-patient relationship in general, and there are numerous articles which center around empathy and compassion.

End of Life Issues

Perhaps end-of-life issues are among some of the most challenging that arise for us in the care of others. Perhaps nowhere are a healer’s communication skills, compassion, and ability to address cross-cultural issues brought to the fore more intensively. – Markkula Center guidelines for end of life care. Includes case studies and links. – End of life/Palliative Research Center – excellent links and a number of curricular resources – Project on Death in America. Well-done list of online resources for providing quality end-of-life care. – End of Life/Palliative Education Resource Center. Collection of presentations, bibliographies, and various instructional aids focusing on end-of-life care. – Washington University in St. Louis Prognostigram. Allows you to enter data about patients to calculate their personalized prognosis. Steinhauser KE et al. “Are you at peace? One item to probe spiritual concerns at the end of life. AIM. 2006;166:101-5.


“Compassion is the radicalism of our time.”
-HH the Dalai Lama

“Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things.”
-Thomas Merton

“Compassion is the ultimate and most meaningful embodiment of emotional maturity. It is through compassion that a person achieves the highest peak and deepest reach in his or her search for self-fulfillment.”
-Arthur Jersild

“The power of love to change bodies is legendary, built into folklore, common sense, and everyday experience. Love moves the flesh, it pushes matter around…. Throughout history, “tender loving care.” Has uniformly been recognized as a valuable element in healing.”
-Larry Dossey, MD

“Compassion is not sentiment but is making justice and doing works of mercy. Compassion is not a moral commandment but a flow and overflow of the fullest human and divine energies.”
-Matthew Fox

“Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so, you apologize for the truth.”
-Benjamin Disraeli