I don't know about you, but I've been bowled over by the acts of kindness that I've seen – big and small in recent weeks such as the 8pm clapping and cheering for our NHS and other key-workers, the solidarity in rainbows in all our windows, and what about the determined and generous-spirited Captain Tom Moore and his unbelievable fundraising efforts. Small acts of kindness that go an incredibly long way.
These activities are demonstrations of compassion. Compassion is an active emotion; it motivates us to do something. I have felt that a lot in recent weeks. But at other times I flip toward empathy – which leaves me feeling exhausted. To feel compassion has a different energy to it, it mobilises us to do something. So, today's message is about how we build a compassionate practice, that supports our personal energy levels, and that may also have a lasting effect on others as a by-product.
Tara Brach, psychologist makes explicit the difference between compassion and empathy, its close cousin.
"Empathy is the ability to feel what other people feel". Compassion means “to suffer together, but it is really defined by a quivering of the heart that wants to help. Compassion is our evolutionary potential. We have a capacity for affiliative care, to tune in to each other and to care about each other.
It is an important distinction. Empathy can be accompanied with a feeling of immobilisation – it is linked to our ego, 'I can feel what you feel, but I can't/don't want to do anything about it'. Empathy can be tough for the person feeling it if they are already stressed.
Compassion tells a different story, it is heart-felt, expansive and enabling. It is saying, 'let me hold your hand and walk with you whilst we work out what we do together'. Compassion is also a social emotion – it is the right sort of contagious and we may want to catch it. Check out a brilliant demonstration of these young quadruplets laughing for how we can catch an emotion. It is the best feel-good video you will see all day 😊
So today, let us practice a Loving Kindness Meditation - a practice that supports kindness and compassion.
Infuse and top yourself up, and then pass it on for others. Open the video below when you are ready.