The What & How of Compassion

Life always calls for compassion! Generating compassion for family, friends and community when we are all in this time of disruption may be more challenging than usual. Humanitarian, author and Zen Buddhist scholar Roshi Joan Halifax describes the following four conditions as a map for creating compassion: the capacity to attend to the experience of others; to feel concern for others; to sense into what will serve others and to act in order to enhance the well- being of others. That is the what of compassion and following is the how of compassion.

To be able to follow this map and navigate the terrain to generate these conditions for compassion, she teaches a process of G.R.A.C.E.  To begin, we gather our attention. The affirmation Be Here Now is useful. To get here, use the instruction to put your mind and body in the same place at the same time. Do this preferably by placing attention on feeling one place in your body where you are already receiving strong input based on your homunculus (face, hands genitals, feet). Take a few slow breaths, with a long exhale.

The next G.R.A.C.E. step is to recall intention. Connect to what is motivating you to do what you are doing right now and FEEL its alignment with your values. As you prepare to engage, attune to self and other. Using the perspective of yourself as a happening in continual co-creation with your environment (inner, outer, other), pause and sense into your somatic experience all that is happening in your interaction as it unfolds. While we may be conditioned to react to the situation at hand with either helping or fixing, Halifax reminds us to consider what will serve.  When we respond with service, we are appreciating the whole context of the situation and acting skillfully to relieve the suffering we have attuned to by sensing what is happening in ourselves and the other person. Engage and end is her final step.  Once you are clear on what will serve, take the compassionate action you are able to take with the resources at hand. Sometimes this engagement may generate creative solutions for meaningful change.  Other times, engagement is bearing witness together the suffering we experience in the uncertainty of not knowing the outcome of our situation. End with creating some symbolic gesture, such as shaking out your hands, or momentarily bowing your head, to signal to yourself you are closing the encounter to prepare for a next encounter.

Valuing Self Care

Self care is really an act of self -compassion.  Compassion arises in response to witnessing suffering in ourselves or others. Suffering is a strong word, but feeling it for ourselves and others is what motivates us to act to change the experience. We can wrap our hearts around suffering if we understand it as what we experience whenever we want something to be happening differently than it is happening right now. Viewed in this way, we are likely in need of self compassion on a daily basis!
Any self-care practices we choose to adopt needs to regarded as valuable to us and be created by us in ways that we find pleasurable in order to be sustainable. Referring to value as described in this graphic by social scientist Dr. Brene Brown, do you value self-care? Determining value for self-care, that is rooted in self -compassion is essential; otherwise, we may adopt a mistaken view that our self-care is one more thing to add to our to do list, or a self-help tool we use to fix what we have come to believe is broken.




Rehearse your ABC’s to introduce yourself to the practicing self compassion:

A:  Attitude  
Adopt a curious attitude along with an intention to pay kind attention to yourself as you learn a novel skill of experiencing self-compassion. Consider this an introduction to loving-kindness.
 B:  Be here now.
Pay attention to whether your body and your mind are in the same place at the same time in each activity you engage in through the day.  Locating your attention is the first step in training your attention. Consider this an introduction to mindfulness.
C:  Connect
Once you have found your body, attempt to stay connected to feeling your body do whatever it is you are doing. Your attention will likely wander repeatedly. The trick of the training is noticing if and when you have disconnected and then kindly re-connect yourself. Consider this an introduction to non-judgement.

Most of us will be drawn to engage in that which we enjoy, so be playful with your foray into new territory.