Compassion means to "suffer together.” It is the ability to feel the pain of others and be moved to do something about it. It is a skill that takes practice and can be developed. Compassion is also good for us. Compassion supports mental and physical well-being "and speeds up recovery from disease; furthermore, research by Stephanie Brown, at Stony Brook University, and Sara Konrath, at the University of Michigan, has shown that it may even lengthen our lifespan.” Compassion also supports greater connection to others and helps us feel a sense of belonging. Research findings suggest, “people who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression; studies show that they also have higher self-esteem, are more empathic to others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.” By practicing mindfulness and compassion, we can tap into something greater than ourselves. In other words, mindfulness and compassion practices helps us trust and feel more connected to others.
Paul Ekman, professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, describes different kinds of compassion. In his taxonomy of compassion he describes familial, global, sentient, and heroic compassion. He explains our ability to emotionally resonate with others and be compassionate begins through familial connection. The seed of compassion is "planted through the caregiver-offspring bond.” If that seed of is not planted, he believes Charles Darwin and the Dalai Lama would argue the individual will struggle in life. As educators and caregivers we can help our children nurture this seed and perhaps even plant it by practicing mindfulness and compassionate awareness of others.
Ekman describes global compassion as our ability to feel the pain of strangers suffering around the world as when we feel great sadness and are moved to help after a hurricane or earthquake impacts another part of the world. Ekman argues this skill will be crucial for the future of our children and our world. Indeed, if we want to help our world find peace and find solutions to the challenges we’re facing, we need to develop our capacity for global compassion. He describes sentient compassion as “highest moral virtue” and as having compassion towards all living things including insects. Mindfulness can help us understand how all beings are interconnected and support sentient compassion.
Ekman also describes heroic compassion or “altruism with a risk.” There are two kinds, immediate and considered compassion. In immediate heroic compassion the person acts without thinking as when they “jump onto the subway tracks to rescue someone.” In considered heroic compassion a person is willing to put themselves at risk, expects no reward, and can maintain this stance for years. Ekman believes that by understanding the reasons why some people have an easier time being compassionate while others struggle, we can learn how to be a more connected and trusting world.
To cultivate compassion Greater Good Magazine suggests:
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ABOUT ARGOS GONZÁLEZ:
Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor. He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY. Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at email@example.com.