“Compassion comes from knowing that we too need compassion, that we all have struggles, adversity, and we see them the way we hope others might see us – through the lens of equality, humanity, and kindness” – Michael E Berrett, PhD, founder of Center for Change in Utah
Giving and receiving the gift of compassion
The holidays are a time of giving and receiving. This may be in the form of material gifts, and it can also be in the form of spiritual gifts. One of the most meaningful and powerful gifts we can give each other is compassion.
Think of a time someone showed you compassion….
How did you receive it?
Think of a time you gave compassion to someone…
What was it like for you to give it?
Suffering together, healing together
In my daily work I have been blessed to discover the research behind compassion, and to learn from some of the greatest, most compassionate teachers. Yet I’m not blind to the fact that the people I ultimately learn the most from are my clients themselves. I strive to sit with them in the depths of their suffering each time we meet – to understand what they are going through, and to give them kindness and understanding in return. Sometimes that’s as far as my intervention can go in that moment, as I don’t have the ability to take away their pain, only to let them know that I see it and am there with them. Other times we are able, the client and I together, to engage in active steps to alleviate their suffering. While these steps may increase their suffering in the short term (e.g. the feelings of disgust and anxiety at eating regular meals; negative body image; the discomfort of resisting urges to use eating disorder behaviors), the long-term healing of recovery is much more profound.
Sharing our struggles
Eating disorder recovery is a process of engagement – an act of DOING rather than avoiding. While this is often painful and terrifying, one need NOT do it alone. Sharing our struggles with others is a way to not only receive compassion, but also to give compassion by making ourselves vulnerable in the common humanity of suffering. Kristin Neff, compassion researcher, explains common humanity as “recognition of our connection with others in the experience of life, suffering and imperfection is a shared human experience.”
When we realize that everyone suffers, it helps us put our own suffering into perspective. It’s not a competition over who suffers the most – you’ll almost always be able to think of someone who suffers more than you – but that doesn’t make your suffering any less real or valid. We can all hold space for the suffering of ourselves and others.
“Mindful awareness” of our suffering is a good place to start, which simply means noticing it without judgment. Below are some questions to get you started:
Reflection questions (possibly to journal about) (from Dr. Berrett)
1) What happened or is happening to you ?
2) What’s it like to be in your situation ?
3) What is it that hurts the most right now ?
4) What are you most afraid of right now ?
5) What are you most feeling shame about right now ?
6) What are you feeling towards yourself right now ?
7) What it like to be you right now ?
8) What do you most feel like doing right now ?
9) What do you need more than anything right now ?
Every night I pray this peace prayer of St. Francis with my son, and I often think of my clients while I say it:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Merry Christmas to you and those you love. Let’s make this next year a year of giving and receiving compassion.
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