"Our task must be to free ourselves from our prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." Albert Einstein.
One of my spiritual teachers once used the analogy of the Rose to explain compassion to me. I was having a very difficult time trying to feel loving toward those who were mean to me or to others. I would actually feel satisfaction when they in turn would then feel pain with some later event. When one of the bullies in high school lost his mother to illness, I felt it served him right. No compassion there whatsoever. But I also felt bad that I felt that way.
My teacher said to me that compassion is the highest form of love that exists. It is like a rose that grows in the moist soil. The seed needs to have the right amount of sun and rain in order to gestate and take root. Then it needs opportunity to grow up through the soil without being picked off as a weed. This is why the rose has thorns. It is a matter of self-protection. With the right amount of sun and rain, the leaves grow and the buds form. When the rose blooms it is magnificent to see and attracts all who see it. But the scent of the rose is the fullest expression of love, like compassion. It is not contained. It blows with the wind and is free to all who are in the general area.
At first I completely got the thorn thing. That is what I had to grow just to be able to tolerate the existence of the bully in my life. Then I realized that the sun and rain were about the good days and the bad days. Tears help us to grow, just as the rain helps the rose to grow. Too much sun and it gets scorched. Too much rain and it experiences root rot. I also then realized that through life experience we can realize that there is a difference between something looking beautiful and actually being beautiful. There are many that we encounter in life who look amazingly beautiful, but are severely damaged inside to the point of actually being hideous to be around for any length of time. We can love the physical aspects of someone, but that is just not enough for the duration of a lasting love. Then we experience those around us, like my teacher, who is like the scent of the rose. Love exudes around them and embraces all into its fold. They feed those around them with compassion and understanding. They see beyond the behaviors of people and into the human condition that motivates certain behaviors. With their insights and understandings, they are able to gently love even the most vile of individuals, and those individuals actually shift their consciousness as a result.
I hope that one day I will grow enough to be like my teacher was. In the meantime, I have learned to have compassion, even for that bully who lost his mom, and that there is no way of really comparing pain. Each person has their story and each person has their pain. Pain is pain. One person's pain is no bigger or smaller, more or less traumatic, or more or less important than any other person's. This is something that I have had to teach some whom I work with on healing pain because they think that they should not be feeling the way they do because there are so many others in the world who have so much more pain. Hogwash! Pain is pain. And the method of healing it is the same across the board. Compassion.