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Four Levels of Integrated Compassion and How to Practise Them

Dear Integral Meditators,

As it is the Easter weekend I thought it might be nice to continue the theme of compassion from last week’s article, but this time look at four types and levels of compassion that, if we understand them can help us to develop our compassion in an integrated and holistic way.

In the spirit of compassion!


Four Levels of Integrated Compassion and How to Practise Them.

These four levels of compassion are quite easy to understand, and once understood quite easy to integrate as a part of your daily practice. Practising all four together however means that your compassion has the opportunity to grow and develop each day on multiple levels, rather than just one or two.
The way it is used in this article, compassion essentially refers to a feeling of care and support and understanding that we can use as motivation to relieve the suffering of ourself and others)

Here are the four:

Compassion in the first person
This first type of compassion essentially means practising empathy and extending compassion to ourself each day. We are all going through our various different challenges and sufferings, and just spending a few moments each day recognizing what we are going through and extending the feeling of compassion toward ourself can be deeply helpful and life-giving for our process. Feeding ourself compassion also ensures that we always have (at least a little) compassion to give out to others. Without appropriate self-compassion we can find that the well of compassion for others runs dry pretty quickly.

Compassion in the second person 
This is the practice of compassion for those in our “we-space”, our family, friends, colleagues, people we  include within our circle of concern because they share our life. In a certain sense it is natural for us to extend our compassion to these people, but from another point of view, they are also often the people with whom we get most annoyed, upset and pissed off with. So, mindfully, deliberately extending compassion and empathy to those close to us is a really good way of improving the quality of our daily relationships in the midst of all the natural friction that arises.

Compassion in the third and fourth person
Compassion in third person is for those whom you don’t know, and whom you can observe “objectively”. To have compassion for other humans and animals that we don’t know there has to be that basic connection or empathy arising simply because they are another living creature like us. We don’t have to know someone directly to have compassion for them, and each time we purposefully direct our compassion to others outside of our circle of concern we expand our heart of compassion, and increase our potential both to be happy and to be of greater service to the world in some way…

To practice compassion in the fourth person means to take someone/group of living beings you don’t know and really try and enter into the challenges and pain they experience as if you were themYou are identifying deeply with them and their experience, and on this basis developing compassion and empathy for them. There is and power and urgency in fourth person compassion that is absent in third person compassion.

Compassion from first-to-fourth person basically takes us from individual self-compassion (healthy) and expands our circle of concern, to our family, to the world and to all living creatures progressively. Each level is important and each has its place.

One minute mindfulness
Take 1-5 minutes each day (2/3 times a day if you like) to generate empathy and compassion for yourself and then move progressively to those you are close to, to humanity and the world (in third person), and to all living beings as yourself (fourth person), holding each level of compassion for a short while.
Compassion, besides being a pleasant state of mind to hold also has a powerful healing and motivating power. Practising like this for a few minutes each day can have a powerful positive effect on both the way we are in our life and what we choose to do.

© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website