Compassion means being able to recognize suffering and to be supportive of the pain. We can be compassionate for others as well as for self.
Thupten Jinpa (the Dalai Lama’s principal English translator and author of the course Compassion Cultivation Training) suggests that compassion is a four-step process:
1. Awareness of suffering.
2. Sympathetic concern related to being emotionally moved by suffering.
3. Wish to see the relief of that suffering.
4. Responsiveness or readiness to help relieve that suffering.
Which step challenges you? And why? What inner messages emerge that prevent or balk that step?
The 1st step: Recognizing how we suffer. Suffering can take the form of: physical pain, embarrassment, being afraid, making a mistake, vulnerability, grief, despair, etc. Often we minimize, rationalize, deny and hide our and others’ angst, pain and suffering. This avoidance is perhaps because of the pain it evokes in us and the task it asks us to do – to relieve such pain.
Interestingly, often by simply naming the suffering, all four steps have been taken. This is because one huge childhood wound is that a central caregiver was not emotionally attuned enough and thus, we were left to suffer on our own. Our suffering has been heard and more importantly, acknowledged. No one has to fix it – yet can someone merely, simply acknowledge (verbally name, send a card, donate, etc.) it!
What does it take to be compassionate? Here is an inventory of the skills and attributes which are needed to aid our compassion with self and others. Identify which need some additional work for you.
• Attunement to feelings
• Boundary setting
• Stop negative talk
• Savour pleasurable moments
• Take responsibility – make amends if needed, apologize
• Stop judgements – no good or bad; just is
• Self-care … being good to our self (sing, nap or merely lie down for 20 min., stretch more, baths, smell soothing scents, watch those negative messages!)
• Acceptance of who we are; our limitations; our gifts; perfectly imperfect
• Acceptance of people, places and things/situations
• Realistic expectations of others and self
• Letting go of anger and resentments
• Forgiveness of self and others (hard to do when others have hurt us, especially when we were children)
As you read the list, the attribute ‘biggies’ are: acts of kindness, acceptance/non-judgemental, self-care, taking responsibility/humility, boundary setting/assertiveness, and letting go of expectations. What could you do today to help your compassion for self and others?
How well are you able to be compassionate with yourself? Let’s start.
• Place your hand(s) lovingly on your heart.
• Tell yourself something positive about yourself.
• Look yourself in the mirror and say ‘I love you’ (or something else positive).
• At the end of day, journal/say aloud …one thing you did well that day.
Were any of these difficult to do? Where did you notice any resistance? What messages might have emerged? (e.g., Don’t have time. What’s the point? It really doesn’t matter.)
Why is it so hard to be self-compassionate?
Some people do not feel safe being kind to themselves. If may feel awkward, downright uncomfortable or even stressful. Others feel weak, vulnerable or even selfish and guilty. Those with abusive pasts can mistrust kindness as it was often from the hands of a betraying parent or nurturer. Further, most of us were not modelled acts of compassion. Reflect upon your family of origin’s messages of compassion. How were people (and even animals) treated in times of need? How was self-care shown (thoughts and behaviours)?
Take a self-compassionate assessment from researcher Kristen Neff (Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself) https://self-compassion.org/test-how-self-compassionate-you-are/
As the holiday season approaches, we are often asked to show compassion. Discerningly decide what this will look like for you.