Understanding compassion can help us to understand self compassion. What does compassion mean and how can we ensure we are begin compassionate? When I am working with my clients on values and goals many of my clients identify compassion as a value they would like to be more in touch with.
I also notice that when working on self compassion clients seem to simultaneously become more compassionate.
Joan Halifax has done incredible work on compassion, like Kristen Neff, she has defined it and studied it's components. Most of the information on this page is taken from a course I took from Joan Halifax and her work.
Joan says that compassion can be divided into "scientific substrates" of attention empathy and insight"
We cannot be compassionate if we can't attend to the experience of others. Grounding and sustaining our attention is no easy task in this society though. Not only are we particularly challenged at this time in history by the fragmenting of our mind by technology, but certain situations provide specific challenges to compassion. Also, most of us want to turn away from pain and suffering of others, a time when we are required to be compassionate.
Daniel Goleman is a psychologist ,author, and science journalist. In his TED talk " Why aren't we more compassionate?" He references a study detailed in a 1973 paper titled “From Jerusalem to Jericho.” In their study, Darley and Batson examined the behavior of Princeton Theological Seminary students. One group of students were told they would give a talk on the parable of the good samaritan. One group were told they would give a talk on becoming a minister. On the way to give the talk both sets of students passed a man who needed help. A mixed set of students from both groups were given the information that they should hurry up because they were going to be late for the talk. Darley and Batson were interested in which group helped. The group that stopped was the group that was not preoccupied or in a hurry regardless of what they had studied for the talk.
Daniel Goleman also tells his own story of living in NY where homeless people are often ignored in the subway system. He himself would do this frequently until he spent time writing articles for The New York Times on the homeless and became sensitive to their needs.
One day, he noticed a man who was slumped down and not moving. Everyone was rushing about and stepping over this man. Daniel Goleman stopped to check with him and see if he could help. He was surprised that SIX other people stopped after he did, and they discovered the man had passed out for lack of food. After stopping and subsequently becoming aware of his need, all of the people in the general area managed to help him get enough food so he could revive himself. Only after they paid attention to him were they able to be empathetic and compassionate.
These are two examples of how being present, and attentive, rather than busy preoccupied, or self absorbed are a precondition to compassion( and self compassion.)
Joan Halifax describes the second component of compassion as empathy, or the capacity to feel concern for others. Many of us are highly empathetic people and others seem to have a compromised ability to be empathetic.
Empathy towards others can be compromised by:
Insight is another component of compassion that entails "sensing into what might serve others". Insight requires empathy in all of its domains ( physical emotional and cognitive). A person who is demonstrating insight in the context of compassion is thinking about all of the systems that impact the person we are being compassion to. We are thinking about how to act with compassion based one what will assist the person we are interacting with. We use our empathy, intuition, and discernment about how to act compassionately in the other's best interest.
Compassion also must include the intention to alleviate the suffering of the person you are acting compassionately towards.
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