We can develop the courage to see and be more compassionately in the world, to live our lives with our hearts wide open to the pain—and joy—of being human on this planet.
As TV newscasters reminded us in their coverage of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the American educator and television host Fred Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
engaging in acts of kindness leads to an increase in peer acceptance—a big deal for teenagers. Peer acceptance is also a key to reducing bullying at school.
A recent study from the University of Chicago tracked more than two thousand people over the age of fifty for a period of six years and found that extreme loneliness is twice as likely to cause death among the elderly as obesity or high blood pressure. Those who had reported being lonely had a 14 percent greater risk of dying. Some
Witnessing kindness makes us feel compassionate, and compassion predicts helping behavior.
Researchers have discovered that achievement-dependent self-esteem makes us vulnerable to feelings of inadequacy and failure when things don’t unfold as expected.
Some researchers offer evidence that the pursuit of self-esteem may hinder learning, specifically learning from our mistakes.
Self-liking implies an easygoing peace with ourselves. Crucially, the self-liking that comes from self-compassion is devoid of hubris. Self-compassion combines self-worth and genuine humility.
Tibetans encapsulate the problems with perfectionistic self-esteem in the memorable saying “Envy toward the above, competitiveness toward the equal, and contempt toward the lower.” These,
meditations, for example, operate from the premise that we have the instinct to be kind to ourselves, and the technique involves extending this natural feeling toward others in expanding circles of concern: from ourselves to our loved ones to strangers to “difficult” people
Self-hatred comes from caring a lot but being unable to accept or forgive our imperfect selves. With self-compassion training, we learn to reconnect with the part of us that still cares, purely, tenderly, and vulnerably. It never stopped; it’s just been hidden behind the layers of armor we put on when we feel like we’re under attack.
As part of her seminal work on the psychology of self-compassion, Neff has developed a questionnaire aimed at measuring what she sees as the three main components of self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. She explains self-kindness as relating to our shortcomings and difficulties with kindness, understanding, and acceptance rather than negative judgment. Common humanity, in her scale, is how we perceive our problems and suffering within the context of shared human experience. And mindfulness is the ability to hold painful experiences in awareness, instead of overidentifying with them through obsessive thinking or desperately trying to fix them.
We discourage them from using the harsher, self-damning kinds of phrases even casually. (Even after so many years of living in the West, I find them quite jarring.) Whether or not you’re a parent, one way to think about self-compassion is as being a good parent to yourself.
Self-compassion emphasizes how we relate to inevitable disappointments and failures, so it frees us from the impossible task of trying to construct a disappointment- and failure-free life. Self-compassion is encouraging—and when we are less afraid of our mistakes, we can more readily look them in the eye, learn what we can from them, and move on with our greater goals in mind.
Meeting my grandmother brought home powerfully how my initial refusal came from a part of me that was least kind. It came from a place of excessive self-preoccupation, where I was being driven by an obsession with “efficiency”—in this case my studies at the monastery—that closed me to other possibilities of life’s blessings. And there was arrogance in it.
When we said good-bye, we hugged and she touched my forehead with hers in the traditional Tibetan gesture. Holding my face in her hands, she looked straight into my eyes and said, “Be kind, and be happy.”
It’s that being kind, to ourselves and to others, makes us happy.
Compassion—for ourselves and for others—takes courage. It takes courage to take care of ourselves, to make decisions in our best interest and not let our fear of what other people think throw us off course.
However, compassion also makes courage. Acting out of compassion for ourselves, we can be more confident that we are doing the right thing. At the same time, having compassion for others frees us from fearing for ourselves.
Often, unskillful, unkind behavior comes from insecurity rooted in jealousy.
I am working to understand better what the Dalai Lama means when he says, “I have never met anyone who is a stranger.”
Through training, however, we can make compassion our basic stance, the very outlook with which we perceive ourselves and the world around us, so that we engage with the world from that place.
In CCT, we target four areas for change: outlook, awareness, capacity for empathy, and behavior. We change our outlook primarily by working with our conscious intentions and the attitudes we bring to our everyday experience of the world. We enhance our awareness by working at our attentional capacity and learning simply to be with our own experiences as they unfold. We cultivate our empathic capacity by warming our hearts through consciously wishing others well, especially our loved ones, and taking joy in their happiness. We learn to expand the scope of our empathy by recognizing similarities that we share with others, especially our common humanity. Through changing our outlook, awareness, and capacity for empathy, and by consciously living out our compassion in action, we transform our behavior. Through changing our behavior, we change the world.
A healthy and compassionate relationship with ourselves, in which we relate to our own situation with kindness, understanding, and genuine acceptance, is the seafloor to anchor our relationship with others and with the world around us.
Beginning with setting conscious intentions, we learn to focus our attention and bring greater awareness to our own experiences. We then practice warming our hearts so that we more easily connect with others, especially our loved ones. Once we have laid the groundwork through cultivating our intention, attention, and empathy, we turn to the challenge of cultivating self-compassion. Finally, with self-compassion and self-kindness firmly anchored, we work on expanding our circle of concern so that, at least in aspiration, it embraces all humanity. As an important step to enlarging this circle, we cultivate genuine feelings of connection with others, through embracing a gut-level recognition of our shared aspiration for happiness.
The Buddha made a telling mudra, or gesture, as he sat under a tree becoming enlightened, in which he touched one hand to the ground to signal that whatever storm of troubles raged around him, whatever provocations came at him, he would hold his spot.
You need only two to five uninterrupted minutes. The Tibetan tradition recommends setting our intention and checking with our motivations in this manner at the beginning of the day, at the start of a meditation sitting, and before any important activity.
May all beings attain happiness and its causes. May all beings be free from suffering and its causes.
May all beings never be separated from joy that is free of misery. May all beings abide in equanimity, free from bias of attachment and aversion.
Living true to such an intention doesn’t happen without setting and resetting it, and drawing strength from dedicated reflection. Mandela’s intention helped set the mood of the new nation.
What mattered most to us was giving our love, trust, respect, and attention to our children in an atmosphere of warmth and intimacy. Everything else was details.
I would catch myself before I turned emotions into unskillful actions.
With e-mails, in particular, I have maintained a fairly strict discipline for nearly two decades now. I start my workday not with e-mails, but with at least an hour or two of actual work. When I then get to e-mail, messages that I can reply to in less than a minute or two I take care of immediately or later that day. Those that require longer responses and some further reflection I defer for at least a day or two. And if I receive an e-mail on Friday, unless it is absolutely urgent, I wait until Monday to reply. I avoid touching e-mail after work, as well as during the weekend, except when I am on the road. The benefits are obvious to me: space and time to be more fully present with my family, or with myself.
Is it just for me or for others? For the benefit of the few or for the many? For now or for the future?
Two American experts in caregiving behavior, Jennifer Crocker and Amy Canevello, distinguish between what they evocatively call egosystem and ecosystem motivations. With egosystem motivations, they explain, caregiving is a means to satisfy the caregiver’s needs and desires. In an egosystem, satisfaction is a zero-sum game: Caregivers compete for, say, status and praise for being good at what they do. In contrast, caregiving in an ecosystem is motivated by genuine concern for the well-being of others. Although ecosystem caregiving might result in benefits for the caregiver—providing a sense of purpose and joy, for example—these benefits are not the primary reasons why people provide care.
Choice of attention—to pay attention to this or ignore that—is to the inner life what choice is to the outer life. —W. H. AUDEN (1907–1973)