More and more research is suggesting that compassion is the antidote to what ails us as humans, both individually and on a larger societal level. So, if the answer is simple (yet perhaps not so easy), how might we contribute to the healing of the world that has such a compassion-deficit at this time?
We must first acknowledge that as humans, we experience fear and pain, which open the door to suffering. Whether the fear and pain are experienced physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and/or spiritually, they cannot be avoided. It is part of the human condition. Suffering, on the other hand, is something that can be avoided. Suffering is a response – or choice – to the fear and pain. The practice of compassion has been shown to trigger the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the happy hormone. Any increase in happiness reduces the experience of suffering.
Next, we must consciously tap into our heart space and exercise our compassion muscles to keep them active and strong. Therefore, below I provide intention-setting ideas to help support the cultivation of compassion in your own life, so that you can spread the happiness around. I hope you will consider trying one!
- Practice a loving kindness meditation. With the expanding research base around the health benefits of compassion, many sites offer loving kindness or compassion meditations. Simply set an intention to establish a regular practice of finding yourself in a space of comfort and quiet and listen to one. When listening at first, it might seem awkward or unnatural, especially when offering yourself compassion. However, remember that it is a practice and, with time, the effects begin to show up in your everyday interactions. Don’t give up!
- Soften judgment. The natural human survival instinct creates judgment. Therefore, it takes work to transform judgment into discernment. Judgment grows from a perceived power differential. It is unconscious and reactive. Judgment is a reaction from fear, insecurity, jealousy or ignorance. On the other hand, discernment grows from a conscious and more thoughtful garden, where the seeds of clear perception and insight grow. The flowers that bloom guide us to distinguish what is appropriate and inappropriate, healthy and unhealthy and the choices we make are not only good for us, but often for the good of others. Through the clear perception of discernment, we can make good choices without having to label ourselves as better (or worse) than anyone else. So consider the next time you catch yourself making a judgment (He’s such a jerk!), reflecting on a time when you too may have acted in a similar manner. Sit with the experience and see if you are able to identify why you acted that way. Was it out of fear or insecurity? Or something else? The more conscious you can make the unconscious motivations behind our judgments, the softer they become, opening the doors wide to compassion for others that are suffering, as well as for ourselves.
- Listen deeply. Listening to others deeply is a tool that opens the gate to compassion. When you allow someone to be fully heard, without interrupting or planning a response, you create a sacred space for them to truly witness themselves, perhaps for the first time. Most of us, when engaging with others, allow our unconscious, reactive judgment (see above) lead us in the conversation, jumping to a solution to fix what ails the other; however, that simply implies that something is broken (or even that they are broken), often putting them on the defensive and perhaps even shutting down the conversation. When we listen deeply, we begin to see ourselves in the other, recognizing the common pain we all experience as humans. When we are able to hear our common humanity, with all of its limitations, we are more easily able to lean into the softness of compassion. Consider trying this the next time a friend calls and is suffering. Challenge yourself to simply sit with the suffering and perhaps acknowledge the pain by saying something like “Wow, that sounds really painful.” without offering any fixes and watch what unfolds.
- Heal your trauma. As the majority of the world has experienced trauma of some sort or another, most of us have some work to do in this area. Be open to the idea of allowing your warrior part to guide you on the journey to discover the parts of yourself that have been shut down or out, allowing them to have some conscious air time to express their need to feel connected. Until we heal our own internal conflicts from our past traumas, we are likely to hurt others, even if unconsciously or unintentionally. This work can be hard, yet amazingly beautiful. So if you might want some support, perhaps consider reaching out to a spiritual or life coach or therapist. Through this work, we invite compassion for those parts of ourselves that carry the burden of our past traumas, like we would offer compassion to another.
- Practice radical self-care. So many of us were taught that if we take care of ourselves first or prioritize our needs over others, we are selfish. I’m here to debunk that myth! It is my experience that most of us don’t even know what are needs are because we are in a mind set of taking care of the needs of others. What happens if we don’t identify our needs and focus instead only on the needs of others? We become exhausted, irritable, anxious or shut-down. We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves first if we truly want to take care of others. When we experience powerful negative emotions, it is typically a sign that our needs are not being honored. Therefore, I recommend exploring and identifying your needs as the first radical self-care step. Or perhaps consider looking up the definitions of selfish and self-care to gain a better awareness of the differences. When you are able to understand that you can be thoughtful of others AND prioritize your needs first, you are paving the road for compassion to replace fear in your heart!
As always, if you try any of these intention-setting ideas for holistic health, I would love to hear about the impact they might have had for you. Please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to share!