Monday, August 27, 2012

Compassion, a gift or curse?

"Sometimes someone says something really small, and it just fits right into this empty place in your heart."  ~ My So-Called Life

So, I assume somewhere I signed up for a free sampling subscription of Entertainment Magazine. At some point, I have started to receive the Yoga Journal in the mail as well.

Instead of being baffled, I'm just going with it ... especially because the things in these magazines are resonating with me more now than ever before. I was reading my August Yoga Journal about a week or two ago. One of the articles inside talked about three different types of breathing exercises people can do throughout the day to bring them into a state of calm and relaxation ... and one they can presumably maintain throughout the day the more they practiced them.

I'm starting to practice them, but it's definitely a process and like any "practice," you really have to be consistent to get results.

Another article that also hit me pretty hard was "More than a feeling, practicing compassion can strengthen your relationships."

What was interesting about it is, the article suggests those of us who are easily compassionate toward others and act on that compassion in their everyday lives are more spiritually heightened, engaged and aware ... more in tune with their natural instincts.

"You're likely to gain much more profound insight into your own well-being and have more success in your interpersonal life," said Emiliana Simon-Thomas, a consulting neuroscientist with Stanford university's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. "Compassion facilitates more meaningful connections with other people."

That part is what I resonated with most, because when I think back on the most meaningful connections I've made over the years (in my childhood, teenage years, college and adulthood) they've been borne through compassion, understanding, a feeling of belonging as well as being accepted.

However, in my past, I've sponged up others' strife and tribulations so deeply (especially a few years back), I would lose myself. This article touches on that, too; referencing a nine-week program that uses meditation techniques adapted from various contemplative traditions — such as tonglen, a Tibetan Buddhist practice where you imagine breathing in another's suffering while sending out love and kindness as you exhale.

The idea is to teach students how to nourish their compassionate instincts and to regulate their emotions so that they can feel another's pain without being engulfed by it. Which is what I have been actively trying to do for the better half of a year now.

This article also talks about why some of us lose this part of ourselves. I've encountered many people like this over the years, especially in my field. For me (and as the article also mentions), it happens when our minds are disconnected from our hearts. When we mainly dwell in the reasoning mind, we often experience other people as obstacles toward our goals rather than fellow beings on the path, according to Swami Ramananda of the Integral Yoga Institute, who suggests we take a few moments a day to cultivate compassion to help bring us back to our hearts. Because our hearts have the capasity to embrace everything.

However, the mind and rationale always has it's place, I believe. And where I've gone wrong in the past is being either too much of one or too much the other. There are those out there who would love to take advantage of "too much heart" people. I've met them. And there are plenty of "too much mind" people who are impossible to penetrate, who have trouble knowing how to live. I've known them. I've been one of them.

But when I've found that in between — and granted, it's come and gone since it, too, is an active practice that must be upheld consistently — I've found both peace and elation ... joy and love, even if just in glimpses or stolen moments. But the key is practicing more of this compassion technique regularly to maintain that balance continuously.

The Yoga Journal cites a 2010 study that showed 85 percent of adults said they felt greater well-being after volunteering, 73 percent had reduced stress levels and 68 percent felt healthier. The study supports the notion that freely serving others can reduce anxiety and depression, speed up recovery from illness, reduce pain, help older adults stay mobile and increase longevity.

One guy quotes "rather than aspiring to volunteer, find something you can do that works for the life you have right now. Start with something that's within your grasp and build on it."

I liked that ... because that's how I feel whenever I do something for someone or even just bring a smile to someone who is down ... or put them at ease somehow.  It's something that is within my grasp and part of my daily life ... and costs me nothing. Nothing but a few moments, nothing but a piece of my heart.

That's how I feel every time I exchange a meaningful conversation with a close friend or connection. It feels nourishing inside and it's this natural thing that just happens. And I notice it building on itself all around me now, in the people that have come into my life and in the things people share and the bonds I've formed over the years.

And that compassion and those bonds are the very ones worth living, loving and fighting for.


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