pain and mindfulnessDid you know that Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. at earlier points in their lives attempted suicide? How can it be that two of the most compassionate people on the planet endured such suffering in their lives? One answer has to be that perhaps there is actually an upside to suffering.

A good friend recently told me an equation that went like this:

Pain + Mindfulness = Compassion

What does this mean? When we intentionally bring a warm awareness to our pain and put aside our lenses of judgment that the pain itself is bad, alchemy occurs that turns the experience into something entirely different. It is the experience of belonging, being cared for, of being loved. This is self-compassion.

Some of us feel like we have too much compassion, we’re overly in touch with the pain and the world and that drives a depressed or anxious mood.

My definition of true compassion includes the philosophy of the serenity prayer which brings balance to it.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Some call this experience of having compassionate balanced awareness a form of equanimity. That you can hold the pain within an open heart, but you awareness if far more vast than the pain and so you don’t get pulled emotionally into it, but instead let it rest and work itself out within your warm attention.

The next time you feel an emotional pain or see the emotional pain of someone else try remembering that if it were not for that pain, there would be no compassion and then like Ghandi and Dr. King, focus on what you CAN do. That may be anything from slowing down and putting your hand on your heart, to smiling at someone, to donating time or money to a movement you feel drawn to.

We are active participants in our own health and well-being and the health and well-being of this world.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Ghandi statue photo available from Shutterstock



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    Last reviewed: 12 Sep 2012

APA Reference
Goldstein, E. (2012). Pain + Mindfulness = Compassion. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 4, 2015, from


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