The promise and potential of compassion


PETALUMA, CA, Dec. 1, 2014 – It would seem that over the years the widely accepted definition of compassion – that is, a feeling of deep sympathy coupled with the desire to alleviate the suffering of others – has been watered down somewhat.

Take the word “alleviate.” While alleviating someone’s pain might include the actual removal of it, it really just means to help that individual cope with or endure their pain. It’s also possible that our understanding of the very concept of compassion has waned as we’ve gotten into the habit of encouraging others to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity.

But it wasn’t always like this.

Back in the day, people were being cured of a host of diseases simply through another’s expression of compassion. “Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat,” it says in the Bible, “and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” This included healings of blindness, leprosy and even death on more than few occasions.

Of course, that was then (if “then” ever really happened, some might say) and this is now, so why not just go with the flow and accept the fact that compassion, while certainly a desirable attribute, can only go so far, right? Wrong. Rather than dial down our expectations, why not dial up our definition of something we already know can have a huge impact, not just on our own, but on another’s health – our happiness, our ability to recover from mental and physical disease, even our longevity.

We can start by revisiting the idea that the cures we read about in the Bible, both in the Old and New Testament, never really happened. Since there’s hardly room enough here for an exhaustive discussion of the subject, let’s assume for the moment that they did. Were these miracles? Divine intervention intended to benefit only a lucky few? Or could it have something to do with the frame of mind of both healer and healed? And, if so, is it possible that the same sorts of cures might be replicated, at least to some extent, today?

Given the outcome of his efforts, it’s fair to assume that Jesus’ healings had just as much to do with what he saw in those who came to him for help than how he felt toward them, if not more so. If he were to see them as helpless victims of genetic predisposition, of their own mistakes or the will of some capricious divinity, it’s doubtful he would have been successful. On the other hand, were he to assume that it’s actually in everyone’s nature to express the whole of an all-good God’s will, the full spectrum of spiritually based qualities including health, he might see better results. And he did.

This, then, provides a more refined definition of compassion, one that goes beyond a well-intentioned desire to alleviate, to a deep-seated trust in the Divine’s ability to eliminate disease of all types.

There are many who see such an approach to health and healing as little more than “wishing away disease.” Others have given it a shot and are starting to see consistent if modest success. For Mary Baker Eddy such compassion, such confidence, was not only helpful but absolutely required in her own healing work. “The benign thought of Jesus, finding utterance in such words as ‘Take no thought for your life,’ would heal the sick, and so enable them to rise above the supposed necessity for physical thought-taking and doctoring,” she wrote in Science and Health, “but if the unselfish affections be lacking, and common sense and common humanity are disregarded, what mental quality remains, with which to evoke healing from the outstretched arm of righteousness?”

Perhaps our willingness to put into practice what we already know of compassion will inspire an even deeper understanding of its potential, and we’ll find our definition of this most essential of all healing qualities evolving as well.

Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs.

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