Fierce Compassion: Staying True to You

The definition of fierce compassion is to lovingly and thoughtfully “stick to your guns”. It is not stubborn and it is not selfish, and only you can know that edge for yourself. Fierce compassion is holding fast to your truth while remembering that you are engaged with another conscious human being who may have a distinct truth, and that is ok. As you both hold your distinct truths or beliefs, you can also hold the consciousness that in many ways you are not different.

Practice: Next time you sit with someone expressing a difference of opinion, try focusing on the shared truths that you are both breathing, that you were both born and will die someday, that you both have capacity for love, and that you both have felt pain. A focus on the innate human-ness we share is our strongest weapon.

I have a very beautiful and challenging relationship in my life that constantly calls me into the space of being fiercely compassionate. This person can easily oscillate between expressing their heartfelt admiration of who I am, and angrily blaming and judging my actions in a cruel and unnecessary way. You might be asking yourself why in the world would Paula maintain such a relationship?!  The reasons are manifold and not the focus of this article; however it serves our purpose to speak these truths here:

  1. I completely believe in this person’s innate goodness and capacity for love and compassion.
  2. I recognize this person’s wounded-ness and refuse to write them off for it.
  3.  The constantly evolving relationship provides a brilliant mirror for my own deep sense of self-worth and value.

When I am assaulted by people or situations that throw me off my center, trigger my inner victimhood, and/or challenge my ability to be compassionate to myself and and to them, I start by taking some personal space. I immediately go to a dark, silent room or outdoors into nature, and breathe with awareness resting on the simple rise and fall of my respiration. When I am ready to (usually not in the moment), I return to the conversation with some very clear communication. This includes phrases such as: I understand you are __________. From my perspective __________. I feel __________.

I do not use the words I’m sorry in this case. If and when amends need to be made I do make them, however I have found that the words I’m sorry again distance me from what I know to be true in my heart.  You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain: try this practice next time you are challenged!

Like anything worthwhile, fierce compassion needs to be trained and nurtured. An ongoing practice is to find the things that awaken fierce compassion within you and seek them out when you need a little strength in your backbone coupled with softness in your heart. An example is how the song “Medicine” by Rising Appalachia awakens these qualities in me. Each time I hear this song I am moved to tears of anger and sorrow in regarding the reality of our socio-political situation. Simultaneously I am inspired and bolstered by the strength of community and creativity.  I recommend you listen to the song now and observe the feelings that arise within you. I have included some of the lyrics here to give you a sense of how strength and softness are like two wings that can lift us up when we feel down.

Wise men say that rushing is violence 
and so is your silence 
when its rooted in compliance 
To stand firm in loving defiance, 
make art your alliance 
give voice to the fire 

Move people to the beat of the wind 
Gather yourself and begin 
to dance the song until it ends 
We are winners, champions of the light 
forming in numbers and might 
keep the truth close in sight…

To stand firm in loving defiance when faced with violent or inappropriate actions strengthens our inner being. The idea that our silence is violence when its rooted in compliance speaks to the importance of being able to share our truth. When we aren’t able to speak our truth in the face of challenge, some part of us suffers this violent act of omission. In order to nurture compassion for ourselves we continue to practice speaking our truth.

Speaking our truth at the peaceful Women's March in Sacramento
Speaking our truth at the peaceful Women’s March in Sacramento

Fierce compassion is the epitomy of a yoga and mindfulness practice. A wonderful way to root this into your body and mind is to physicalize it. Access the video on how to practice this in Warrior II below.

This asana is a perfect place to experience fierce compassion because the foundation of the pose must be impeccable (foot and knee placement), and the connection to earth charged and alive (padabandha and mulabandha). Literally the very core of you is engaged which helps steady you in your deepest truth. Simultaneously you bring in a softness and surrender through the shoulders, neck and jaw. You practice a determined gaze that is also allowing; steady and sustainable. In Sanskrit, the Warrior poses are named after Virabhadra. His story exemplifies fierce compassion; check it out here and as you read see if you connect to the philosophy and where in your life it is most needed.

Another place to cultivate and experience fierce compassion is in meditation. We commit steadfastly to taking a seat, we return to this seat again and again, even when it is difficult and unappealing. Yet sometimes we miss a practice, or our mind is particularly monkey-like and 20 minutes of stillness feels more like a scroll through your internal Instagram feed. Enter compassion; you are making an effort and doing the best you can with what you have and that is enough. You are enough, just as you are; wrinkles, Netflix habit, comparisons and all. When your mind slides into a pattern of judgment you can practice fierce compassion with that part of yourself! Use one the practices above to steady back into the truth that you are whole and you are enough.

In the comments below please share with us your truth: how do you practice fierce compassion in your life?

If you’d like personal guidance in any of these practices please reach out to me for a Private Session.

More resources on fierce compassion:

Great article by Sharon Salzberg on Fierce Compassion

Brilliant article and a video visually expressing fierce compassion from Skoll Foundation