No. 14 - On compassion

Recently, my daughter and I witnessed an unfortunate incident in a parking lot where a man became so irritated that someone else was in his way that he stopped, ironically what he was being forced to do, and got out of his vehicle to berate the other person. I took this as an opportunity to remind my daughter, and myself, that in these situations we need to have compassion for people like that man. We can only imagine what level of stress must have already existed for what would probably have been a mere irritation on any other day to completely gain control of his emotions. It would be easy to pass judgment or make assumptions about his character. But if, instead, we extend compassion in these situations, extending kindness even from a distance, it makes excellent practice for when we might momentarily lose control of our own emotional self and need to dip into self-compassion. So, this week I invite you to join me on a little journey into the idea and action of compassion, both external and internal. After all, it is the Island Elixir vision: that we can create a kinder and more compassionate world through tea.


Imagine yourself sitting quietly on a bench overlooking a lake. You are fully relaxed, eyes closed, face turned to the beautiful morning sunshine, and have lost all sense of time and space. You are in a state of just being. Suddenly, in that space of calm, you remember that you had promised your friend to meet them at a tea shop at precisely that hour, and between the hike back to the car and the drive to the shop, it will take you at least an hour. Your friend is likely already there. What do you feel? Guilt that they will have come for no reason or have to wait for you? Fear that they will think themselves not important to you? Do you direct anger or judgment at yourself? Perhaps all of the above and more. If you are like me, you're panicking a little. Certainly, the serenity you felt has been dashed away. Objectively, this is a simple error and unlikely to be of real, lasting consequence if the friend is a true one. What would it feel like to pause in this moment and extend yourself compassion? Recognize your imperfections and basic humanity. Take action by connecting with your friend to explain in full honesty and set a new time or day. Incorporate a system to keep your agreement next time. If you are the friend waiting in the tea shop, why not embrace serenity by extending kindness and understanding in the other direction? And in those few small actions, the world is a little calmer and a little kinder. It feels more serene already.


I love this definition of compassion by Brené Brown in the very beautiful book Atlas of the Heart (if you are an e-reader person, make an exception for this one, it's absolutely beautiful): "Compassion is the daily practice of recognizing and accepting our shared humanity so that we treat ourselves and others with loving-kindness, and we take action in the face of suffering." Just to highlight: it's a daily practice. When we practice anything daily—from music to mountain climbing to meditation—our skills improve. But before you think, "I have no room for another practice on my to-do list!" consider this: compassion practice can be (dare I say should be?) integrated into our every day. It links back to our discussion on awareness (No. 8)—the simple act of observing the beauty and struggles going on in the world around and within us—and asks us to be present and work to understand the turmoil. It does not require us to suffer, but to be open to drawing on our experiences to create connection and take action to make the day a little brighter for another human or for ourselves. From helping someone struggling with their grocery cart to holding space and sharing a cup of tea with a child who had a rough day, perseverance in compassion is a journey toward a more beautiful world.


Meditation. A quick search in Google Scholar for "meditation and health" returns approximately 824,000 results. The very first of those results is a review article entitiled "Psychology of Meditation and Health: Present Status and Future Directions" by Dilwar Hussain and Braj Bhushan. In the introduction, they point out that "[t]he word meditation comes from the same Greek and Latin root as the word medicine." They go on to summarize the various physiological and psychological studies that had been undertaken over the last 5 decades. Whether you are a daily meditation practitioner or a curious newcomer (or even a reluctant one!), meditation can be a beautiful way to practice compassion. There is one meditation in particular that ties very well into developing compassion: the loving-kindness meditation. There are many podcasts that offer this particular guided meditation, but there are no 'rules', you can take the general framework and make it your own.
1. Close your eyes, entering a quiet state by becoming aware of the body and your breathing. Focus on peace, calm, allow the mind to become soft. Bring vividly to mind an event or image that stirs feelings of beauty and love. Allow positivity to flood your system. Repeat the mantra 'may I be well; may I be happy' mentally or simply feel love for yourself.
2. Bring vividly to mind someone for whom you have unconditional love and kindness and with whom there is no current conflict -this is often a child or even a pet. Feel your connection with them, allow it to build in your body, and extend them kindness. You can repeat the mantra 'may they be well; may they be happy' mentally or send emotion or colour or energy, whatever form speaks to you.
3. Bring vividly to mind someone for whom your feelings are 'neutral'. Extend them the same kindness, through the mantra or whichever form speaks to you.
4. Bring vividly to mind someone for whom your feelings are of actual 'dislike'. Try not to get caught up in the feelings of dislike and extend them the same kindness, through the mantra or whichever form speaks to you.
5. Bring vividly to mind all four beings - yourself, the loved one, the neutral person, the 'enemy'. Extend and grow the feelings of loving-kindness.
6. Grow your awareness to all beings - the community, the province, the country, the whole human world, animals, plants, the Earth - and extend and grow the feelings of loving-kindness.
7. Gradually release the feelings and return your awareness to the body and then the space around you.
8. Take a deep breath and open your eyes.

See where it takes you. May your week be full of the well-being that comes from being filled with kindness.

One more thing...

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
- Plato

Until next time,
Steep Calm.

No. 14 - On compassion
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