Self Compassion is a Definite Advantage to All.

If we want to be compassionate to others we first have to learn how to be compassionate to ourselves. It is not uncommon for people to quote these kinds of statement when someone is being overly hard on himself or herself. There is a certain amount of truth in these statements because it is difficult to be really compassionate to other when we are being hard on ourselves. I said there is only certain amount of truth in that statement because we can train ourselves to put others needs before our own or if we operate from a competitive orientation where winning is all important we may end up ignoring our needs at the expense of winning. One may not even be aware that by doing that they are harming themselves and those close to them.

When we are harsh or violent towards our selves it is genuinely hard (as I said ) to be compassionate towards others. When we are taught to be judgmental towards ourselves it prevents us from seeing the beauty in ourselves. We lose connection with the divine energy that is our source. If we can learn moment-to-moment evaluation of ourselves without being violent to ourselves, we can then learn from our mistakes and make choices that serve us without ever losing self-respect. Unfortunately the way we have been trained to evaluate ourselves often promote more self-hatred than learning. We can all recall an incident when we done something we shouldn’t have done or made a mistake; immediately afterwards it is not uncommon for us to treat ourselves harshly and tell ourselves “that was stupid”,” how could you do such a stupid thing” or “what’s wrong with you”, “you are always messing things up” or “that was selfish thing to do.” We have been taught to evaluate ourselves in a way that’s not very helpful and leads to devaluing ourselves. What if we evaluated the situation in a way where we can learn from our mistakes and gain new insight; wouldn’t that would guide us towards growth? We can do this by being compassionate to ourselves.

What is it to be compassionate and why is it important? Compassion can be defined as a deep understanding of ones difficulties or suffering without judgment and then helping skillfully to relieve that difficulty or suffering with the sole purpose of enriching life. Being compassionate is important because it pattern our brains in such a way that our behavior and way of being in the world becomes a catalyst for healing and enriching life for others and us. The practice of being compassionate overtime will generate in our minds’ and bodies’ experience of well-being because how we view the world and ourselves in that world would have changed to one of nurturing and caring rather than one of fear and aggression. The compassionate behavior requires a number of different skills and attributes. It requires us to have sensitivity, sympathy, tolerance for distress, empathy, non-judgment and care for well-being. This will allow us to direct our attention compassionately, to think and reason compassionately, to generate compassionate images and imagining, and to work on creating a bodily sense of compassion. These skills and attributes will infuse our attitude with warmth rather than cold detachment; thus generating nurturing, healing, happiness and contentment within others and us. It becomes a way of being which allows us to connect to others and ourselves that enhances life. It allows us to identify our human feelings and our human needs; then compels us to behave or act strategically in such a way that both ours and others needs are satisfied. If we practice being compassionate to ourselves first then we can be compassionate to others. With practice it becomes our natural way of behaving as our brain pattern for behaving and seeing the world becomes profoundly different. We are less likely to be influenced by the old primitive patterns we inherited through evolution and our popular cultural.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi “Be the change you want to see in the world.”.

In the next post more on developing compassion.

Resources:

Nonviolent Communication: a language of compassion by Marshall B. Rosenberg.

The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert

Can the brain be trained to cope with suffering and bring about feeling of contentment?

In the last post I talked about how we feel inside, depends on how we view the world . We produce stress hormone if you see the world as hostile and healing hormone if you view the world as friendly.

It would be nice to live in a world where we feel safe and nurtured. You may wonder if such a world exists in reality; for most of us it probably doesn’t.  Even the father of the young Buddha tried to create such a world for him  but he failed. Later the Buddha himself realised that we cannot live without unpleasant things happening to us; in fact he thought life was suffused with suffering and that it was not just periodic good and bad events in life. The continuous suffering from ordinary life events ,such being late for work , getting a speeding ticket , weather either too hot or too cold , seasonal allergies , burning the tongue with hot beverage, argument with a colleague etc  can all contribute to the ongoing suffering; and chronic suffering will eventually give us ill-health. Buddha suggested minimising this suffering by being fully aware of it at all times; by being aware allows us the opportunity to react appropriately when we do suffer so that our behaviour or our reaction to it doesn’t produces more suffering to us or others.

The obvious question is if we can train our brain to always come up with the right action so that we cause no or minimal suffering to others and ourselves. The answer is yes; we can train our minds to do extraordinary things. We train our soldiers to kill when in combat. The training they get prepares them to kill in the war zone, if they don’t they will put their selves and their comrades in danger.  If mind can be trained to kill in certain situations why can’t it be trained to come up with right action at the right time? The right action is generated by cultivating compassion for all living being. It is the compassion that ultimately matters and guides us towards the right action. The science, with the new technology have studied brains of Buddhist monks and who practice cultivating compassion for all living beings. The part of the brain that is involved in compassion is markedly more developed than the average person who led an ordinary life. The monks have the ability to show compassion even to a psychopath. That does not mean they condone their bad actions or behavior, rather that even when they see how bad their behavior has been they still don’t want to cause them more suffering. The compassion they show is by seeing the situation as it really is, yes the psychopath may have lied, cheated, harmed others but after seeing all that their action is going to be based on how to prevent further suffering to psychopath and others. They do not believe (like most of us have the tendency to) that punishing and causing more suffering to them can avoid further suffering. Rather they believe that change in psychopath’s behavior is going to come from behaving differently towards him so that his view of the world is slowly converted to one where the world looks lot more friendly and caring. When one feels cared for and feels safe in the world then one will be predisposed to acting in a beneficial way to himself and to others. Of course the behavior of the psychopath is not going to change from one interaction but it may give him pause to think that there is another way of acting which maybe more beneficial to all concerned. With repeated showing of compassion his behavior may change.

When one is showing compassion to others don’t forget there is also a great benefit for to the one showing the compassion. As I suggested in my last posting they act from place where the world feels and seem friendly and their relationships are better; their level of stress hormones are lower and their feel good brain chemicals higher and their immune systems are more robust. The same is true when one show compassion to themselves.

So how can we learn to be compassionate and receive/give these good benefits? I said in my last posting I will go over some exercises to enhance the system that controls the feeling of contentment, but before I do that we need to know more about compassion; which will be the topic of the next posting. Until then may you see and find the world friendly.

Resources

The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert

Feeling of Contentment

In the last post we looked at satisfying our desires. We noticed as soon as one desire had been satisfied the contentment resulting from satisfying that desire did not last very long, soon another desire appeared which also needed to be satisfied otherwise we risk being unhappy and discontented. We found ourselves in a vicious cycle of desiring and satisfying the desires because our need for desire never ends. In a way more we satisfy them the more hungry we get for more. We spend a lifetime trying to satisfy all our desires and in the end we die without experiencing real happiness and being content. I witness this all the time in patients with terminal illness. Very few people are content at the end of their life. In this post I hope to explore the sources of this elusive contentment.

In the previous posts I also looked at how we react when we feel threatened. How we are wired to deal with treat and desire has evolutionary benefits. We would not be here as a human species without these systems. They help us to satisfy our basic needs. We humans, however, have the potential for much, much more than just having our basic needs satisfy. We have the ability to be happy, lovingly compassionate and content.  We do this by our ‘emotion regulation system’ that helps to balance the other two systems, of threat and desire, and it’s a major source of our feelings of well-being and connectedness. This system uses natural chemicals in our brains called endorphins and opiates; that enables us to have a sense of well-being and being at peace.

The question is how do we enhance this system in our brains? The answer seems to lie in the certain type of exercises and trying to adopt a certain lifestyle.

 

We will look at the exercises and the life style in the future posts but for now lets look at how we feel safe by creating positive feeling in the minds of others. Most people have had the experience of feeling soothed and content, safe and at peace when they feel valued, cared for and cared about. We spend a lot of our time thinking about other people’s feeling towards us and trying to earn other people’s approval, appreciation and respect and be accepted in our group. We want to be valued, seem desirable, helpful, talented and able. Paul Gilbert writes

 

If you can create these sorts of feelings in the minds of others, three things will happen. First, the world will be safe and you will know that these people won’t attack or reject you because they value you. Second, with them you’ll be able to create meaningful roles for mutual support, sexual relationship and / or sharing. And third, receiving signals from others that they value and care for you will have direct effects on your body and on your soothing/ contentment.

 

Given that this kind of behavior towards us by others makes us feel good, and given that other people have the same needs as us, then doesn’t it make sense that compassion and kindness should be at the centre of our relationships and engagement with the world? In this way we improve our quality of our thoughts in our consciousness. The thought would no longer be fear based but rather be based on trust, caring and being valued. Paul Gilbert writes…

When our brains are in a caring mentality pattern, this brings on-line certain feelings and ways of thinking and certain behaviour e.g. concern and kindness for others and working for their welfare. However, it’s a brain pattern and so the feelings and behavior it supports and encourages can be lost when either the incentive/ resource-seeking system or the treat/self –protection system becomes dominant and regulates feeling and thinking. By learning compassion, we learn how to activate a particular state of mind and brain pattern in us associated with caring and nurturing that have soothing qualities. We can learn certain exercises that will stimulate this system, a kind of physiotherapy for the mind.

Resources:

The compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert

Interchange Blog

Interchange Blog

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