Pause for Thought: Compassion Musings

All seven of the Pause for Thought musings from BBC Radio Devon 6th – 13th January 2019 (Also available individually as earlier blogs)

Day 1: Compassion Resolutions
We are still at the beginning of the New Year, and many of us have made resolutions. Some may already feel we’ve failed! But what is a resolution, and what does it take to sustain it? One dictionary defines resolution as A firm decision to do or not do something.

New Year is not the only time we can make a resolution to improve our lives. Every day – every moment –  is a fresh opportunity to start anew.

When I joined the Charter for Compassion, I resolved to be more compassionate. This has become a daily challenge, and some days I’m more successful than others. The secret is to do my best, and then let myself off the hook if I don’t do as well as I’d like. By remembering that every moment is a new opportunity to do better, and that progress is a more realistic goal than perfection, I am practicing compassion – towards myself, and other human beings.

New Year’s resolutions can take many forms, and many of these are founded on compassion. Better self-care, more patience, kindness to others, personal development – all contain an element of compassion. To be compassionate is to strive to treat everyone – including ourselves – with kindness, respect and consideration. To tolerate imperfection and keep resolving to do our best. Compassion unites us in empathy, and compels us to make a positive difference in our lives and communities – every day.

This week I’d like to invite you to join me each morning, to think about what compassion means to you, and to us, and how cultivating compassion can transform our lives, communities, and world.

Day 2: Tuning our Compassion Antennae
When we resolve to embrace compassion as a way of life, a whole new world can open up to us. Just like a butterfly, whose antennae are tuned to sense the flowers that contain the tastiest nectar, we can tune invisible “antennae” to detect compassion.

The stresses of everyday life and the often-negative perspective of global media can sometimes cause us to see the world as a dark and threatening place. When we exercise our compassion antennae, we become attuned to the light beyond the darkness. Our world-view begins to change.

Look out for acts of compassion and you will begin to see them everywhere: The waitress who brings coffee to the Big Issue seller outside her café. The child in the queue who shares his toy with the bored toddler in front of him. The bus driver who re-opens her doors for the man running across the road. Engage with others in the spirit of compassion and notice how they respond in kind. Look for the positive posts on social media, and choose to follow those who post these, rather than the more negative options.

Sometimes through doing this we may also find we become more sensitive to where compassion is lacking. This is natural, but it’s not our focus for today.  For now, just note the compassionate action you witness. Tell others about it. Encourage them to tune their compassion antennae and share their observations with you. Human Beings are hard-wired for compassion, and we need to reconnect with this natural instinct. Noticing and sharing examples of compassion are an excellent place to start.

Day 3: The Joy of Compassionate Action
As we develop more sensitive compassion antennae, and notice the compassionate action around us, it is likely that we will feel more inspired to commit acts of compassion.

A woman in one of my compassion groups was shopping in Plymouth. She was having a bad day. To cheer herself up (in the spirit of self-compassion) she decided to buy some fruit from a stall in the city centre. She selected four punnets, and as she handed a five-pound-note to the stallholder, an elderly man hobbled over and picked up a punnet of fruit. He held out a pound coin to pay, but my friend said “I’ll get those”. Smiling, he held out the coin to her. She told him “it’s a present”.

The man’s face lit up with pleasure as he exclaimed “Two wonderful things have happened today! The sun is shining and I got a present!”

The stallholder also broke into a smile, and my friend told me her heart soared with joy. Committing this simple act of compassionate generosity made her day. It also made the elderly man’s day to receive a gift from a stranger, and the stallholder’s day to witness the interaction. It made my day to hear about it, and when the compassion group met the next week, it cheered us all, and inspired other members to reach out compassionately in similar ways.

We tend to think that compassion is a nice thing to receive, but that acting compassionately ourselves will take something from us. The more we practice compassion, the more we realise that what we gain can far exceed the cost. 

My friend told our group that the pleasure she gained from gifting that fruit was worth £1000. Add to that the pleasure her act gave to others, and the example she set, and the gift was priceless.

Day 4: Nurturing Self-Compassion 
This week we have already explored compassion from several angles. I have talked about the importance of compassion towards others, and today I’m going to focus on the area of compassion that is often most neglected: Compassion towards ourselves.

In my work I am privileged to meet many people whose compassion towards others knows no bounds. But when I ask them about self-compassion they often stare at me blankly, or laugh and say “I don’t have time for that!”

Self-compassion is not to be confused with selfishness. It is only when we have compassion towards ourselves that we can truly and consistently give to others.

Think about a bank account. Before you can be generous with your finances, you must make sure you have enough to meet your own basic needs, otherwise you will soon find yourself overdrawn and in trouble. The same is true of compassion. If we keep giving our compassionate energy away without ensuring we have enough reserves for our own self-care, we become exhausted and depleted. We can end up floundering, with nothing left to give.

Our compassion bank account is credited when we take time to do the things we love. And when we practice loving kindness towards ourselves.

Self-compassion means letting go the harsh internal criticism we tend to reserve especially for ourselves, learning to appreciate ourselves for our myriad positive qualities, and letting ourselves off the hook for not being perfect. If a friend makes a mistake, we reassure her that it’s fine,  we love her anyway. What if we habitually did the same for ourselves?

Self-compassion is an essential quality that can be the hardest part of the compassionate lifestyle. But also the most valuable.

Day 5: Compassion in Diversity 
There are many levels of community, including local, national and global, and every community is made up of a diverse cross-section of humanity. Too often we experience divisions within our community, because we have learned to focus on the differences between people, and feel separate from those who are not like us. When faced with “otherness” we may feel uncomfortable, or threatened, we may feel resentful, we may dismiss the other person as less valid than those who are more like ourselves. We may not always realise we are doing this. It can become habitual; second nature.

But our first nature is to connect compassionately. We have learned to separate ourselves, and we can unlearn it too.

When we look through the eyes of compassion, we see the common humanity between all people. We recognise that we have much in common, in spite of differences in gender, age, race, culture, and so on. When we live with compassion, we become curious about the lives of others of all kinds. We wonder what they have experienced. We become interested in their stories, and we care.

As people from different backgrounds come together in the spirit of compassion, magic happens. The opportunity to learn about the lives of fellow human beings who live differently from us becomes a privilege. Our lives are enriched by the sharing of stories, and empathy, and so are theirs.  

A major focus of Compassionate Plymouth is the celebration of the rich diversity our city holds. We invite people to unite and we see first-hand the depth of communion that results as the mystery of otherness melts away and division is replaced by delight in precious new connections.

Day 6: Compassion for our Planet Earth
We live in a world that continually provides for us. A visit online or to the local shops can meet our nutritional and material needs. We have easy access to natural beauty. We have fuel to help feed and warm us and our leisure requirements can be met in a huge variety of ways.

There is so much for us, as human beings, to be grateful for in this incredible world. And it’s important to consider what we can contribute in return.   

Our Planet Earth is suffering, and desperately in need of our compassionate action. Global warming, pollution, and environmental destruction are causing devastation, and it’s easier to turn away from this stark truth than towards the alternative of altering our lifestyles to save our world.

If we want to commit to a compassionate lifestyle, we cannot ignore this most vital issue.

There is a vast amount of information available online, in books and through environmental organisations about how to be more environmentally responsible, and every one of us can make changes that will contribute to a brighter future for all. Knowing we are doing our best to be part of the solution, rather than feeding the crisis, can bring a satisfaction far greater than the initial discomfort of altering our habits.

What could be a more fulfilling use of our compassionate energy than to better care for the world that has cared for us so well? In doing so, not only are we showing compassion for our planet, but also for the generations yet to come.

Day 7: Join the Compassion Revolution!
This is the last of my morning Pauses on compassion, and it has been a privilege to share them with you. I hope they have got some antennae twitching and that your lives are already being enriched through noticing and committing acts of compassion.

When we resolve to live more compassionately, we learn to look for the compassionate choice in every situation, moment to moment. While we may notice ourselves caring more about others, sometimes that choice is to find a balance by practicing self-compassion first.

Becoming part of a compassionate community, and joining the global compassion movement, is an adventure and a joy. Knowing that, all over the world, ordinary, extraordinary people are doing what they can to live more compassionately, just like us, can change our world-view and motivate us to be the best versions of ourselves, every day, without the pressure to be perfect.

Compassionate Plymouth is new and growing. We need and welcome individuals, groups, organisations, businesses, schools and institutions that would like to commit to living more compassionately, and transform their lives and community. We’re offering free workshops for representatives of organisations in February. Please get in touch if you’re interested.

There is also the opportunity to connect with like-minded others around the world, sharing ideas, experiences and resources in the spirit of compassion. And you don’t have to live in Plymouth to get involved!

To learn more, or express your interest, please visit our (very new) website, www.compassionateplymouth.com or the Compassionate Plymouth Facebook page, or contact me, tam@hopeintheheart.org.

Thank you for listening.

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