The etymology of the word "Practice" reveals that it's rooted in employing or carrying on in a profession - especially medicine. The same for "Compassion" indicates - suffering for another.
I am struck by the deeper implication and a more direct attribution to healing than I knew earlier. Practice in anything - positive or negative triggers greater mastery, comfort, and competence. How does the practice of compassion sit in our lives? It is here that I examine observations from Ram Dass, a disciple of Neem Karoli Baba from India.
According to Ram Dass, a Guru in India once told him that he can have a mantra (a sacred message, an instrument of thought) that would make him enormously wealthy. He told him that he didn't want it unless it will also make him equally compassionate. He has also famously said, “The resistance to the unpleasant situation is the root of suffering." Let's observe these two statements. Why would anyone not resist the unpleasant situation? What does this say about our “fight or flight” instincts? Why would anyone WANT suffering? I think that the answer is not that these views are esoteric and only meant for a few realized souls. Let me explain.
Life gives us plenty to experience and in time, react to. Many of these will invariably be unpleasant. When I see a poor homeless man in San Francisco, I want to pause and observe myself first. What is the foremost thought in my mind? If it is one of avoidance of the unpleasant, I will quickly build a wall around myself and move on to a new thought leaving a needy human behind me. If my thought is one of compassion - I take in through my senses his lack of access to a bathroom, his clothes that need tending to or his feeling of being uncared for, my heart would fill with a shared suffering for him. The emotion would make me want to help him in a small meaningful way, giving him the joy from someone caring while adding a nickel in my bank balance of Doing Good to Others. Tony Robbins says we do what gives us joy, and avoid what gives us pain. Helping this homeless man gives me joy, so this I will continue to practice. I am also reminding myself that no matter how I feel, someone else is in a worse spot and needs nurturing. This transmutation of the unpleasant into compassion is what I have learned from Ram Dass and his works.
Simply put - more suffering = more compassion = my joy
So am I doing this for myself? Not really but that is an excellent question with a happy, sobering side-effect. At that moment of compassion, all I can think about is the other person and their suffering so I draw satisfaction from that - knowing this reminds me that I am on the right path.