June 8, 2020
We Need Loving-Kindness More Than Ever
We are facing a historic moment in time, both as a country and as a global collective. We are simultaneously navigating a worldwide pandemic and the pain from hundreds of years of racial injustice. Like many, you may have felt your heart break as you’ve watched the news, listened to friends and community members or experienced the loss, grief or anxiety the events of this year have brought straight into our homes and our hearts. Your ability to acknowledge and connect with this pain is a direct expression of compassion.
Compassion occurs when we recognize someone’s suffering and act on the desire to alleviate it. I like to interchange the word compassion with love but, compassion can also appear as empathy, kindness, and shared humanity. When we act from love there is presence, warmth, inclusiveness, and deep listening. But my compassion, probably like yours, is imperfect. My compassion suffers when I get trapped in what my teacher Tara Brach famously refers to as “the separate self.” When my agenda becomes more important than the person in front of me, kindness goes out the window. When I’m in a hurry I become short tempered, narrow focused and insensitive.
Think about the last time you spoke or acted from a place of urgency or hurry. How did you treat the other person? Were you so focused on your own needs that your awareness of the other person’s needs disappeared? In these moments we become so self-absorbed that the other person becomes just that – other. When we “other” other people we create disconnection and a false sense of separateness. Compassion is a reminder that in the end every human being has the same fundamental desires to be seen, heard, loved, and accepted. No exceptions. And now, more than ever, the world and our country needs each of us to be doing this work.
Your brain is hardwired to reward you for performing acts of kindness. Each time you do something compassionate for another person you receive a little shot of the feel-good hormone dopamine. The intelligence governing the universe was wise enough to arrange your biology in such a way that you are fundamentally motivated to continue acting on your empathy and generosity throughout your life. Each time you do something kind, you experience the biological equivalent of eating sugar! You are literally wired for kindness, and wired to crave more of it.
Physiologically compassion reduces your blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, decreases anxiety and stress, and strengthens your immune response. And, compassion is actually a skill you can strengthen over time. The next time you do something kind, pause and notice how your body feels. Is there a lightness in your heart? Do you feel uplifted or sense the subtle presence of a smile across your face? By taking time to notice the effects of compassion, you train yourself to act compassionately increasingly throughout your life.
To help strengthen this skill within yourself follow my guided Loving-Kindness meditation which is a mindfulness practice that can help you build greater connection, empathy, and compassion. Do this meditation every day for 30 days and watch what unfolds in your life and in our world.