Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tip #47: Cultivate compassion (even to yourself)

As I have mentioned before, I have been watching, whenever possible, Rick Hanson's Compassionate Brain series. It is subtitled "Activating the Neural Circuits of Kindness, Caring, and Love. Practical Neuroscience for Transformation." In the series, Dr. Hanson interviews leading scientists and teachers from different fields on the topic of compassion, its origins, its characteristics and the transformative effects of its practice.

I'm a bit behind with the talks, but, thankfully,  they can be also watched on demand as well (the series is free, but you do have to sign up for it). So far, I have enjoyed everything I have watched, and today I will tell you about two of the talks which I thought were particularly fascinating.

The first one is by Dr. Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and author of Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. He is also the creator of another wonderful website, Greater Good, the Science of a Meaningful Life, which has many resources (articles, videos etc.) about the topic. From his talk, I learned the following:
  • Compassion is something innate to humans. Why? Wouldn't it be better if we were all nasty to each other, winner takes all, mentality? Well, no, because we start as extremely vulnerable babies, who could not survive if the adults around them didn't feel compassion for them. He pointed out that, as species, we are the only ones who take such a long time to be able to defend ourselves on our own. 
  • Kindness turned out to be the number one characteristics that people all over the world, in many different cultures, chose as their number one characteristic they look for in a mate. Not beauty or money or strength.
The second one is Dr. Kristin Neff's talk, called "The power of self-compassion." She wrote Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself up and Leave your Insecurities behind.(I wish I had time to read all these books!). She talked about how, in our society, we have elevated the concept of self-esteem, but that this always involves being better than somebody else, and thus, it becomes a source of anguish and frustration, because this is just not possible. By comparison, cultivating self-compassion will allow you to move on with life in a more gentle, caring, and better way. She did emphasize that self-compassion is not to be confused with indulgence, but that we should talk to ourselves as a loving parent would talk to a child who has failed an exam, for example. You wouldn't tell your child, "you are such a loser!"(hopefully), but would try to encourage him to not let this defeat bring him down. Her talk did remind me about the ideas I had outlined in the post about perfection not being the goal, but it may also be another way to look at the same problem. We all have failings, or setbacks. It is part of a normal life. How we respond to them is what can really make the situation different. It is, in a way, my goal with my tips, my mental exercises as I call them. I do believe my life (and with it, my health and all my surroundings), will be better, it is already better, from these type of lessons which reaffirm and enlarge my own understanding of it.

Dr. Neff's website, Self Compassion, is also full of practical resources, including exercises, even physical ones (how to move your body in certain ways) to help you develop your own self-compassion. And she was also fascinating for another reason. She is the mother of an autistic child, and they are the protagonist in a documentary about how her son discovered by accident that he had a connection to horses, and how the whole family traveled to Mongolia to experience life with horses in nature ( In the talk, she mentioned how she had used her own techniques of self-compassion in the (many) cases when his son would have public fits (like in long plane rides). It was, all in all, very moving.

Well, I manged to write much more than I thought.  But, I do believe that by being aware of these things we can really start to understand that we, as humans, do have to strive to be good, to each other and to ourselves, regardless what society or other forces may be telling us.

What do you think? As always, I'm amazed and thankful that anyone reads these tips and I hope you may want to share your thoughts. I actually discovered Dr. Hanson thanks to a comment by my friend Jennifer to my Tip #5. So wonderful!

1 comment:

  1. Empathy and compassion.
    I am in big need of some tools for doing a much better job of handling my relationship with my business partner and my own overwhelmedness at this time. I think your post today is going to jump start some exploration that I have been increasingly aware of my need for. I just started into the Compassionate Brain series. I feel a little more relaxed already ;)

    There is help to be had, and YOU are linking people to help thanks to your own exhaustive exploration and your desire to share. Woo hoo! xoxox