Compassion in action means working with the painful conditions in ourselves and others, and seeing how they mingle. Often a period in our life is not just one single shade of pleasure or one single shade of pain. In many if not most instances we experience mixed feelings, and sometimes a difficult condition, something that we would never have chosen, ends up bringing immense riches with it. Even when we think of things as perfect, we don’t realize that part of their perfection is their impermanence. We have to see the glass as already broken. Ajahn Chah would hold up a glass and say: ‘If you can see that this glass is already broken, then when it breaks you won’t suffer.’
The quality of empathetic engagement is actualized through the practice of listening. We learn to listen, and in particular we learn to listen to our own thoughts and feelings. We often associate compassion with strong emotions. We associate it with being in the presence of the suffering of other beings, when facing terrible tragedy, but there are also smaller, more local difficulties and sufferings in our lives. The primary quality of compassion, the root of compassion, I would suggest, is learning how to listen, to attend to what is here, to what is present. And from that attending, a capacity to do the appropriate thing arises.
This reflection from Ajahn Amaro is from Don’t Push—Just Use the Weight of Your Own Body (Compassion), PP. 20, 23-24.