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The Healing Power of Compassion

Our Focus is Out of Focus

We often see children or animals in the news who are struggling and suffering. Instantly, the compassion pours out of us for them. It seems natural and automatic to do so. And in all actuality, everything on the planet is truly worthy of compassion. However, we are not always willing to freely hand out this beautiful expression of love and connectedness to everyone. In our minds, some are worthy of our compassion and others are not. So, the question is: Why aren’t we compassionate to everyone equally across the board?

One answer is self-absorption. Because we are caught up in our own little world with a decidedly limited and often judgmental point of view, our focus is misplaced. In effect, our focus is out of focus. Instead of reaching out to others, listening, understanding and providing connecting compassion, we are stuck in our heads trying to solve a string of thoughts as we worry about or regret the past and incessantly fear the future. This causes us to feel disconnected, alone and lonely. Science tells us that it also adversely affects our health.

The second reason we aren’t compassionate to everyone we meet is because we aren’t compassionate to ourselves. Why is this? Because we haven’t been taught how to do this. As we grew up and learned about the world, who we are and how to act, the concept of self-compassion was overlooked. We just didn’t acquire this skill as it applies to us. How can we be compassionate towards everyone equally when we can’t even do it for us? We can start with awareness and end with practice!


Other People are Our Mirrors to Help Us See More Clearly

It is a known fact that what we do to others we are often doing to ourselves. If we see others as incapable and stupid, it’s because we feel the same about us. By projecting our issues onto others, we think we can somehow be relieved of them or ignore them. The truth is that we can never give our issues away to others. They always belong to us until we resolve them from within.

Projection is a great way to see how we are treating ourselves by noticing how we treat others. Being aware of the gift of others as our mirrors allows us to see our own issues more clearly. When we see our own issues more clearly, we have a springboard to begin dealing with and resolving our internal conflicts. That opens up space to become free to dispense more compassion. Ultimately, we can become more connected as a society. Imagine the multitude of positive impacts of a unified population!


The Ties That Bind.

There are a number of things that link us together as humans. One of those is suffering. Most all of us suffer in one way or another. Basically, we suffer from a thinking system that was taught to us that has a foundation message that says we are not good enough. So we spend a majority of our day struggling to overcome that untrue message. Unfortunately, most of us are unaware of this aspect of our lives so we don’t see it in others.

Compassion, as defined by is a “Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.” I can’t think of a group of people more in need of compassion than all of us who suffer from this mindset. If you can be open to noticing this suffering in yourself, perhaps you can see it in others each time your eyes meet. Then, a connection can be made and an unspoken understanding can take place. This is the space where compassion is remembered and willingly applied. The resulting benefits to each one of us are unending!


The 7 Benefits of Compassion

The benefits of compassion are numerous. As you practice applying compassion to everyone and everything equally, you will experience more benefits than the short list created here. As is true of all aspects of love, of which compassion is one, it is beneficial and healing in every way to everything. So, some of the benefits of compassion are…

1. Compassion boosts health and longevity. University of Michigan researcher Stephanie Brown, in a study of over 400 elderly people, found that those who helped others more were healthier, happier and lived longer than others. Of course, one reason for these findings may be that people who are healthier have more opportunity to be of help to others. However, data indicates that positive emotions and social connections (both a consequence of helping others) have a positive and protective effect on health which may explain these findings. A study by Sheldon Cohen at Carnegie Mellon University showed that people with more social connections have higher immune function and are less likely to get sick. Another large-scale study showed that the opposite of compassion — i.e., not feeling connected to others — is as dangerous for our health as smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, and lack of exercise.

2. Compassion for others dissolves our self-focus which in turn helps us feel energized. Research shows that depression and anxiety are linked to a state of self-focus, a preoccupation with “I” and “me”. When you do something for someone else, however, that state of self-focus immediately dissolves. With this we get a boost of energy that we can use to practice self-compassion rather than self-loathing. This enables us to practice more compassion for others on a less selective basis. Remember that what we do to ourselves, we project onto others.

3. Compassion is all naturale. We are born with this natural instinct of compassion. It is who we are at our core, along with love, being kind and being peaceful. Michael Tomasello and other scientists at the Max Planck Institute have found that infants automatically engage in helpful behavior. However, we are taught the opposite by those around us and society as we grow up. We can change this though. We can practice compassion and begin working in sync with our natural state. This provides a better level of equilibrium to our lives and allows us to return to homeostasis .¨ our body’s internal state of balance .¨ and this supports good health.

4. Compassion leads to more understanding. More understanding leads to more connectedness and more connectedness leads to more love. Who couldn’t use more love?

5. Compassion is highly contagious.
Social scientists James Fowler of UC San Diego and Nicolas Christakis of Harvard demonstrated that helping is contagious — acts of generosity and kindness beget more generosity in a chain reaction of goodness. I have seen this in action at my local coffeehouse where a sign was posted at the driver-thru window one day that said, “Today is Random Acts of Kindness Day!” I don’t think anyone paid for their own coffee that morning! Once this gets started, it can last for hours.

6. Compassion makes us happy. When we are compassionate for altruistic reasons, the benefit for us is off the charts where happiness is concerned. In a revealing experiment published in Science by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton, participants received a sum of money. Half of the participants were instructed to spend the money on themselves and the other half were told to spend the money on others. At the end of the study, participants that had spent money on others felt significantly happier than those that had spent money on themselves. Think of a time when you experienced more happiness for yourself due to compassion. Now, go out and duplicate it often.

7. Compassion reduces our stress. When we are focused on others, we take the emphasis off of ourselves and get some much needed relief from the stress of our “unsolvable” problems that run tirelessly in our heads. Since stress is one of the top causes of many illnesses and preventable health conditions, being compassionate can help improve your health. You deserve nothing less.


Compassion Heals the Planet

Many studies have been done to support the healing power of compassion, but our own experiences can show us, on a deeper level, the true power of this beautiful aspect of love. Become aware of the power of compassion as you apply it to your own life more often. Then, as you look out into the world, see every person and everything as worthy of equal shares of compassion. The far-reaching effects of compassion help to not only heal our own lives, but allow us to heal everything on the planet. That is true power!

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