“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.” – Mother Theresa
More than half of Americans report having no one outside of their immediate family to share personal troubles and concerns. The forces of modern life are alienating to a troubling degree. Low social connection is worse for our health than smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure with the burden of isolation linked to increased risk of depression, disease, suicide, and worse. Often a factor in tragedies of mass proportion, social alienation breeds unpredictable consequence. And yet, we’d rather retreat to our solitary spaces than open up and be vulnerable with one another.
We’ve developed a dangerous aversion to all that is bad and uncomfortable. We’re taught to brush it under the rug, take it in stride, and suck it up; vulnerability is weakness and no one likes a complainer! We’ve built impenetrable fortresses of “the good life” and learned to hide behind a smile.
In refusing to acknowledge what ails us, we’ve turned our back on life itself and what it means to be human, as messy as it is. Denial of suffering is a rejection of life.
Compassion is the remedy, and essential for our continued survival.
We are wired to connect. Our very biology is designed to facilitate bonds of social connection and cooperation, a survival of the kindest and most collaborative vs a survival of the fittest. Let’s embrace one another, the good, the so-called bad, and everything in between.
There is a real value in suffering.
“…suffering is a privilege, it moves us toward thinking about essential things and shakes us out of shortsighted complacency” (click the link above to read an incredibly moving NY Times opinion piece on the topic by Pico Iyer).
My weeks in Compassion Cultivation Training at Stanford, have inspired me to be with the sin of our suffering humanity, to accept it in curiosity instead of rushing to fix, heal, or simply turn away in disgust. Or at least try!
“I am larger and better than I thought. I did not think I held so much goodness.” – Walt Whitman
By helping others we help ourselves and we begin to realize there is no such thing as “compassion fatigue.” By connecting with others, and training the mind and the heart to cultivate compassion it can be drawn up as an endless resource.
In just 8-weeks, I’m no expert. But I am encouraged to continue. My intention in taking the course was to slow down, be less self-concerned and more present, be a better spouse – attuned to the true needs rather than the needs as I see them, and to be a source of positivity and support for others. It will take a full life’s journey to reach these aspirations. So for you, and for me, here are a few final tips to keep us growing together in compassion…
- Work to establish a regular routine and time to meditate or reflect daily.
- Begin with YOU – start with self-compassion, treat YOU like a friend, remember and savor what you appreciate about yourself.
- Set your intention for the day in the morning and check-in with yourself at night before bed. Keep a gratitude journal!
- Spend time learning more about compassion and altruism.
- Visit Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (C-CARE) or the Greater Good Science Center’s archive on compassion for a trove of articles and stories.
- Respond to the people and circumstances in your life with an open heart and attitude of compassion.
- Take note when you witness acts of kindness and compassion. Keep a kindness log!
- Connect with a friend or community who shares your interest.
- Remember that every effort is an affirmation in the right direction; let go of expectation and just practice.