Compassion

Up until now we have been focusing on positive attitudes (thankfulness, generosity, acceptance, and patience). Now we are going to give our attention to positive emotions. You need to keep in mind that when we are faced with an event or thought we are simple not capable of feeling a positive emotion and a negative emotion at the same time. Research indicates that the two halves of the prefrontal cortex seem to have specialized functions, with the left half being involved in establishing positive feelings and the right half in establishing negative ones. Thinking artfully involves understanding this phenomena and taking control by allowing positive emotions to extinguish negative emotions.

 The most powerful extinguisher of negative emotion is compassion. Compassion is the ability to feel another's pain and act on those feelings.  Here is a popular story that illustrates that power.


A lone Jewish man was walking from Jerusalem to Jericho and was attacked by robbers, they stripped him and beat him, and went off, leaving him half-dead.  A priest was walking that road, but, when he saw him, he went by on the opposite side. Eventually another Jew came by and did the same. But when a Samaritan traveling the road came upon him he was moved with pity. So he approached him and bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine upon them. Then he mounted him upon his own beast and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he pays the innkeeper, and says, ‘Take care of him, and whatever you spend besides this, I will repay you when I come back here.’

When Jesus told this story in the first century there was much animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans, which make the actions of the Samaritan so noteworthy. The first two passersby were Jews and should have (by law) taken action. Why do you think that they didn't?  Perhaps they did not feel they had the means to help. Perhaps they felt it would be too much trouble, take too much time, not worth the effort. Perhaps they felt that the man must have done something to deserve this outcome. Perhaps they were self-oholics simply not willing to put the needs of their fellow Jew ahead of their own needs.

There is a difference between feeling pity and being moved by pity. Compassion is the power that moved the Samaritan to take action and do whatever he could to help. Therefore compassion was the power behind his healing process. It is the power behind our healing process as well.

There are many times when this world we live in today will rob us of our peace. We can, in a sense. beat and rob ourselves because of perceived failures, or careless mistakes, and even the mistreatment of others. Feeling such as anger, sadness, disappointment are the wounds left behind. We need to feel compassion for our self in order to start our own healing process. If we don't we will be like the first two passersby, thinking that what is done is done, we do not have the means, the time, or the ability to deal with the problem, so in a sense, we go the the other side and walk on by. The negative destructive feelings become incorporated, a fixed part of our being.  Compassion is the power that will make us to stop and look at our problems and then work on a solution.

For example your boss gets angry raises his voice and make hurtful remarks. Here is what can happen, the signal goes to the right prefrontal cortex and you react badly, it bounces around in there going from anger to resentment, contempt, disappointment, pride, and sadness. You have been robbed, and in a sense, on the side of the road, naked and half dead.  If you blame your self and/or the boss for these feelings and do nothing you will, in a sense, go to the other side of the road and walk on by. If you have compassion you will blame no one and just stop and address the wounds using your  artful skills and perspectives.

Compassion take place in the left prefrontal cortex, we mindfully draw up a feeling of compassion for our self by looking at the situation as the Samaritan did, as an non-judgmental observer and not from the viewpoint of the victim. It is only then we can start to heal the wounds. Those negative feelings will fade away as we become aware that they are self inflicted. The acceptance and generosity perspectives will help us to not make the same mistakes again. The next time "the boss" attacks you the signal will automatically go to the left prefrontal cortex and you will react with kindness or simply not at all.

The parable of the good Samaritan was used by Jesus to illustrate what "love of neighbor" really means.  We learn from this lesson that you can not have love without compassion. We can see that love is the desire and the ability to put the needs of others ahead of our self. When you mindfully cultivate constant positive feelings of compassion for yourself and those around you the signal you created stays in the left prefrontal cortex and only positive emotions such as love, joy and peace can result.

Surprising research over the last several years demonstrates the healing power of compassion. In 2009 Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol
Greider, and Jack Szostak were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase. A telomere is a region of repetitive DNA at the end of a chromosome, which protects the chromosome from deterioration. Recently scientist have discovered that telomeres are affected by abnormal stress. They can break down causing the chromosome to unravel. This unraveling will make you more susceptible to disease, cancer and premature aging. The enzyme telomerase repairs the telomeres. Dr. Elissa Epel looked at a group that mothers with severely disabled children that formed a cohort to support each other. This group of mothers had higher levels of telomerase due to the compassion they were giving and receiving from each other. This video is an excerpt from a show produced by National Geographic titled "Stress, Portrait of a Killer"

The Power of Compassion


New research is constantly in the works as a result of these new discoveries, and mindfulness is becoming a large part of it. Mindfulness by itself will not increase telomerase in the body but it is thought that the feelings of well-being that mindfulness produces will.

Compassion is the fuel that feeds as strong sense of well-being and it can be cultivated with the awareness that mindfulness produces. We need to maintain the perspective of the Samaritan and be moved into taking action with our self, and others, in order to start the healing process.

One very simple action is touch. We can feel and give compassion with a very simple touch. Watch this video.




Caring too much can hurt. When caregivers focus on others without practicing self-care, destructive behaviors can surface. Apathy, isolation, bottled up emotions and substance abuse head a long list of symptoms associated with the secondary traumatic stress disorder now labeled: Compassion Fatigue

While the effects of Compassion Fatigue can cause pain and suffering, learning to recognize and manage its symptoms is the first step toward healing. The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© is dedicated to educating caregivers about authentic, sustainable self-care and aiding organizations in their goal of providing healthy, compassionate care to those whom they serve.

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