What does it take to be Compassionate?
Also published on Metro LivingZine
Over the past months we have been learning about the 5 Principles for Successful Communication and are delving deeper into what it takes and who we need to be to develop the qualities it takes to embody the 5 Principles which are:
Consciousness, Compassion, Curiousity, Courage and Commitment
We are now going to look more deeply at what it means to be Compassionate and how to actually embody Compassion.
Firstly what is the definition of Compassion? What does it mean?
COMPASSION: (kuhm-pash-uhn) NOUN: a feeling of deep empathy, care and understanding for another who is upset, hurting, in pain or stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to care for and alleviate the suffering. It means to have heart.
We all need to learn to have an endless well of compassion if we are to improve our connections with others, which in a lot of cases means we need to suspend judgment, our own self talk and reactivity. Empathy and compassion are the underlying premise of all positive connections and conversations and is the cord between hearts. Compassion is different than sympathy and is simply the ability to remain in an open loving heart and be with someone else’s pain even when it is sometimes directed at you. This can often times be difficult to actually achieve, however it is vitally important to any relationship.
For any successful healthy relationship both parties need to feel heard, understood, appreciated and accepted, however resolution when there are differences or conflict is a process that sometimes cannot happen immediately, but happens over some time, hours, days or weeks even. We sometimes have to be patient with the process. When someone is experiencing upset they may not have the capacity for compassion in that moment and that is why it is so important for any of us to have an endless well of compassion for the person who is experiencing some strong feelings, whatever the cause, even if you are the cause. In our family we call our upsets “big feelings” and we all know when there are some “big feelings” happening that it is our time to bring on the compassion, attentive listening and care for the person having the ‘big feelings”
It is usually in a moment of conflict or upset that our ability to be compassionate flies out the window, which is entirely human, however is where we need to grow as individuals.
There are a few qualities we need to embrace and embody to be able to be compassionate for others in times of stress.
- Don’t take anything personally.
I imagine you may have heard that expression before as it has been widely publicized in the Toltec book; The 4 Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, but how do you manage to not take anything personally? Don Miguel says:
“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own story. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering. We take things personally when we agree with what others have said. If we didn’t agree, the things that others say would not affect us emotionally. If we did not care about what others think about us, their words or behavior could not affect us. Even if someone yells at you, gossips about you, harms you or yours, it still is not about you! Their actions and words are based on what they believe in their personal story”
To not take what others say personally is a skill for sure, one that takes time to cultivate but can be managed, and is about really integrating deep down this idea that anyone’s reaction has nothing to do with you and is only about them, what they are thinking, the story they have made up about what an event means, that their response is through the lens and perspective they see the world, from all their experiences, upbringing and education. We are shaped from the moment we are born until the day we die. We have the ability to change our perspectives at any given time, however we can only respond and react with the information we have accumulated at any given moment.
It is a radical gift to allow someone the space to be in his or her own reality and not take responsibility for their experience or by trying to fix them. When we take things personally we are in essence taking responsibility away from someone and it is a true gift of growth to allow someone to take responsibility for their own experience, feelings and needs.
It isn’t about you, it is about them, it is never about you and only ever about the other person.
For me being able to have that perspective helps me not take anything personally. I have come to understand that it is never about me and that there is a lovely freedom in not feeling responsible for others reactions, feelings and responses. This allows us to be open in our hearts and offer compassion and curiousity instead of being caught up in the story, which I believe is foundational for loving connection.
Compassion is the antidote to upset, pain, hurt and conflict. It may sound easy but can be a real challenge. If you also start to react or if you find yourself taking something personally and making it about you, STOP, LOOK & LISTEN which leads us to # 2.
- Listening: Manage your reactivity and listen with heart.
Listening to understand is one of the most important skills to cultivate if you want to have compassion and excel at communication. Authentically listening means you are in your heart and not in your head rebutting, defending, arguing, stonewalling etc or any other myriad of negative reactions that cuts off connection. When you listen, are curious, reflective and responsive then you are able to have compassion. Listening is ultimately respect in one of its highest forms.
There is no room for compassion if you are not listening with your heart and I believe that the pursuit of love, appreciation and acknowledgement is probably one of our most fundamental human needs and motivators. To authentically listen, it is important to suspend judgment, don’t assume you know, resist fixing, telling, scolding, sharing your advice or opinions. Just LOOK and HEAR with compassion. I can’t say enough about COMPASSION as it is my belief that it is the foundation for all positive human interactions and is what really connects us all heart to heart.
- Being in our heart which to me means, just standing in front of someone BEING THERE with no judgment, our body language open and soft, our brains devoid of chatter but full of love and empathy. Encompassing this quality reminds me of a coaching program I attend and support. One of the first things we are told our only job for the week is “just love the people when they walk in the room” which meant so much to me as a concept and went straight to my heart. An AHA moment one might say.
Just love people where they are; It is the essence of compassion
Our leader from Choices, Thelma Box is a wise woman, and what she meant was no matter what anyone is bringing to the table, your relationship, your workplace, just love them when they come in the room. That is compassion at work.
So as you learn to cultivate compassion, I would like to ask you, what do you need to do, or NOT do, to be more compassionate?
What do you need to say No to? In my case I needed to learn to say NO to fixing people. What do you need to say YES to? I needed to say YES to embracing vulnerability.
What about you, what do you need to say NO to and what do you need to say YES to?
I also would like to suggest that who you choose to be in any given moment will either give you more of what you want or less, so ask yourself:
Are you choosing more connection or disconnection? Am I creating more connection or disconnection? We are all responsible for our reactions and responses and the outcome is up to us.