Awakening ourselves to more compassion for ourselves and others is critically important at a time when there is so much change, uncertainty and challenge in our lives and for those we love and care for.
Compassion is more than an emotion; it is a felt and enacted desire to alleviate suffering. Worline and Dutton, 2017 describe compassion as a four-part process that involves:
- Noticing that suffering is present,
- Making meaning of the suffering in a way that contributes to a desire to alleviate it,
- Feeling empathy for people who are suffering, and
- Taking action to alleviate suffering in some manner.
Let’s start with ourselves. When we are faced with our own suffering, do we take the time to notice it? Are we curious about our felt emotions that bubble to the surface, and try to understand or make sense that they may be signalling that something is out of sync? Or do we ignore them, push them aside and tell ourselves that we need to toughen up? That others are worse off so we don’t have the right to feel this way? Or tell ourselves, I haven’t got the time or energy to deal with it now, I’ll attend to that later?
Self-compassion is being kind to ourselves, just like we would be to a friend who was suffering. So how do we do it? Firstly, we mindfully investigate as if we were a scientist, why we might be feeling the way we do. We acknowledge the suffering and its source. We give ourselves the time to sit with it, without judging ourselves, without trying to fix the problem. We then ask ourselves this question; “What is the kindest thing I can do for myself right now?” We then take that action; a cup of tea, a soothing touch, a bath, a walk in the fresh air, a chat with a friend. It is these actions (the small things) that support us, sustain us. They are tiny behaviours that are doable in the moment. They are important, giving us ‘the oxygen first’ so that we can support others.
In awakening more compassion in our friendship groups, families, workplaces and sporting teams we need to be tuned into ‘noticing’. As individuals we are not good at seeking help when we need it, or sharing our suffering, so it may not be obvious at first. There maybe behaviours, however, that are outside of a usual pattern that might signal that someone is suffering. This is when, if we feel comfortable doing so, we do some inquiry work, where we ask, “is everything ok, I noticed you haven’t been yourself lately?” People often offer clues if we are paying attention. They may be less energised. Their bodies may convey exhaustion or tension. Facial expressions might display sadness or anger. Noticing suffering is about learning how to pick up on these clues and working out how to be supportive. It is not about fixing the problem because very often we won’t be able to, it is rather offering a safe place to talk and where someone else will listen. It is no harder than that.
The science tells us that when a team, workplace, family or friendship group has more compassion, that its members will feel a greater sense of belonging, an increased psychological safety and will be more productive in their day. At a time when there is more suffering for so many more people, let’s take the time to notice suffering, be curious about its meaning, feel empathy and take action to alleviate it.