Barbara has recently had a family bereavement and will not be working until November.


Compassion

Within the day to day of our ordinary lives there are things that are hard to bear; there is 'suffering'. Suffering sounds rather dramatic but we can all recognise our reaction to what we don't want to happen, and it's this reaction that is the cause of suffering. Compassion literally means 'to suffer with'.

It's a simple and uncomfortable fact, that no matter how hard we try, life doesn't always go smoothly. We can find all kinds of ways of avoiding or resisting the truth, but at some point we have to deal with it.  The good news is that with a compassionate response we can meet the reality with kindness, warmth and courage; transforming our capacity to face what we don't want.

Compassion develops naurally from practicing mindfulness. The part of the brain associated with perspective-taking, empathy and compassion is shown to enlarge through practising mindfulness - see Professor Sarah Lazar's YouTube clip on the home page of this website http://www.dailymindfulness.com

'Compassion is the sensitvity to suffering in ourselves and others, combined with the sincere wish to relieve it'. Paul Gilbert.

The more compassion we have for ourselves and others, the more courageous and resilient we become. We can learn to increase our capacity through specific practices just as we do with mindfulness. Through practice and over time it becomes easier to face the inevitability of all kinds of difficulties. Losses great and small, loss of the things and people we love, rejection, illness, disappointment, ageing and even death. The compassionate recognition that life has difficulty and suffering naturally within it, opens up a path to living in a wiser and much more easeful way.  We no longer fight or criticise ourselves when things are painful and hard to bear, instead we support ourselves because things are painful.  How totally different, how wise and sane this approach is! In this YouTube clip below Kristin Neff, (the world's most prominent researcher on self compassion), explains clearly the benefits of self compassion compared to self esteem.

As with mindfulness, compassion is completely natural. It is innate and hardwired through the process of evolution; as mammals we needed to support and care for each other to survive. We may feel some compassion for others but having compassion for ourselves can feel very strange indeed. However fortunately we can, just in the same way we practice developing mindfulness, cultivate the compassionate response, in and for ourselves too. By using specific compassion practices we encourage compassion and self-compassion to grow.

There is often a strong resistance to self compassion confusing it with self-pity. However it is neither weak nor self indulgent and this is proven through clinical research. People often believe that self compassion is de-motivating.   There is exponentially growing research to show that self-compassion is highly effective in increasing wellbeing. it motivates and strengthens, making us more resilient at the same time decreasing suffering. Kristin Neff the co-founder of the Mindful Self-Compassion program considers--and rebuts--some of the main objections to treating yourself with kindness. Here in this YouTube clip she explores some common objections.

Where self-criticism can leave us powerless and even distraught, self-compassion is at the root of empowerment, learning, and inner strength. With self-compassion, we value ourselves not because we’ve judged ourselves positively and others negatively but because we are intrinsically deserving of care and concern just like everyone else.  Self compassion is the heart of mindfulness. It combines three elements; Kristin Neff describes these elements as:

1 Our common humanity - the recognition that, at the most fundamental, we have a shared experience -  all of us wish to be happy and none wish to suffer.

2 Mindfulness - the clarity and courage to see how things are, with balanced awareness so that we can be less identified with the experience whatever it may be. This enables us to choose a wiser response instead of a knee jerk reaction.

3 Kindness - our ability to engage our natural soothing system; understanding the reality of essentially messy business of being human and as a result, recognising the healthier response of cultivating self acceptance.

The combination of these three elements are the antidote to our difficulties around the insecurity of comparison, feelings of separation, self judgement and harsh self criticism. They are also the antidote to the narcissistic tendencies of comparison that have arisen from the promotion of self esteem in recent years.

Without a compassionate attitude, mindfulness could become cold and even inhuman.  An assassin can for example, be very aware on purpose, paying close attention to the present moment. Indeed to give a less extreme example, some people have taken only part of the message, thinking that being mindful will benefit themselves alone by solely focusing on their personal concerns. The compassionate approach develops as sense of connection rather than competition. We recognise the interrelatedness and interconnection of all things and research shows that as a result our health and wellbeing improves. This way creates a more sustainable and ultimately more meaningful way of living.

It is said that there are two wings to the bird.  One is mindfulness (or wisdom) and the other is compassion. With these two wings in harmony, we are able to learn how to fly.

That we can relieve suffering for ourselves and others through practice, is very good news!  Indeed the realisation of our common humanity, that we, just like all others do not wish to suffer and wish to be happy is absolutely fundamental.  Even when it may feel like an embarrassing thing to do, we can learn step by step, along with our mindfulness practice, to bring tender warmth and kindness to ourselves when it hurts.

There are several compassion practices in the meditation section of this website. You can find this on the home page on the menu bar. Please try them out and see how you get on with them.

It is known that some people can experience a resistance or even strong resistance to self compassion practices.  If you find this is the case, please don't worry. There is a recognised response called 'backdraft' to these practices, so you are not alone. Christopher Germer one of the leading figures of self compassion explains " Self-compassion training helps us soothe and comfort ourselves as it paradoxically reveals emotional distress we may have been unconsciously holding inside, often for many years. Therefore, some difficult emotions are likely to surface as we grow in our capacity to embrace them. This is intrinsic to the process of emotional transformation through self-compassion". Here is a quote from a participant on one of the Mindfulness and Compassion practise days that I hold regularly "Thank you for the Fintry day, your practices always unfold so gently and reassuringly. I struggle [you might have guessed] with the self compassion aspect, but I feel I am just beginning to "get" it!" Ann. If you would like to explore this further with me, if you feel it would be helpful, we can organise some sessions together either in Oving where I live or via Skype. Together we can find a workable approach to developing your capacity.