I’m going to talk about compassion now; and why it’s so important.
There are many ways to define compassion, but basically it is a basic kindness, with the deep awareness of the suffering of oneself and of other living things, coupled with the wish and effort to relieve it. The ability to do this is a distinct quality of the human mind. Helping people to develop compassion for others and particularly themselves, is not always easy. Some people see compassion as a weakness or an indulgence, which may risk going soft or letting your guard down. Sometimes it can be a difficult process, in particular for individuals whose attachment memories are of unkindness and neglect, they can find that negative feelings can emerge of be ignited, for example feelings of grief.
Take a moment to stand back from the hustle and bustle of your life and worries. Think of yourself as an emergent being on this planet, in this universe. Connect yourself in with the idea of the flow of life, of which we are part. Our desires and emotions were built in this flow and we share them with other beings. Understanding where they come from and how they work can be helpful on our journey to compassion. We can learn that much of what goes on in our minds is not our fault or design.
“Every flower has to grow through dirt”
So, in the flow of life, we find ourselves here with a brain built by genes, that have been evolving over a millions of years to pursue desires, passions and ways of relating to each other. We are born into families, situations and cultures that we never chose.
We have an evolved brain, which is concerned with basics such as survival, threat, hunger etc. However, we also have evolved a new mind that can activate and amplify with imagination, which means that our fears and desires can be taken to the extreme. As a species we search for individuality but also connectedness, conformity and belonging. Our self awareness can be both a blessing and a curse.
Compassionate thinking is a way of directing your thoughts to be helpful to you. Our thinking enables us to construct a world for ourselves. As in CBT, learning to recognise the content of our thoughts and how to stand back from them and look at them in different ways, can be conductive to developing compassion and compassionate thinking.
Treating yourself unkindly and relating to yourself critically is not good for your brain, it stimulates all kinds of stress. Developing self compassion, guided by knowledge of how your brain works can move you forward in important ways.
Being compassionate is not a soft option or just being nice, but can be very difficult, because it can mean standing up to our own desires and emotions and refusing to act on some of our emotions, such as fears.
Here’s a native American Indian story that I love:
Grandfather – “There are two wolves inside of me, one is anger and the other is compassion”
Grandchild – “Which one will win Grandpa?”
Grandfather – “The one that I feed”
Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally to things as they are. It has been found to be helpful for managing a variety of problems, including OCD, pain, stress, anxiety and depression. Paying attention in this way helps because it is the exact antithesis to the type of ruminative thinking that makes low moods persist and return.
Mindfulness is the opposite of automatic pilot mode. It is about experiencing the world that is firmly in the here and now. By learning to be more mindful, it is possible to develop new habits that help to weaken the old, unhelpful and automatic thoughts. Mindfulness doesn’t aim to control, remove, or fix unpleasant experiences; rather, it aims to develop a skill to place you in a better position to break free of, or not buy into, these unhelpful thoughts that are causing distress and preventing positive action.
By being more aware, we can get outside of our heads and learn to experience the world directly, experientially and without the relentless commentary of our own thoughts. We can see our thoughts as mental events that come and go like clouds in the sky, instead of taking them literally. The idea that we are no good, unlovable or incompetent may finally be seen as just that – an idea, not necessarily the truth, which may make it easier to disregard. We can sidestep the cascade of mental events that draw us down into depression. When awareness is cultivated, we may be able to recognise at an early stage, when we are at risk of a slide into depression and respond to our moods in a way that helps us not to get pulled down further.
Core features of mindfulness
- Observing thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations (touch, sight, sound, smell, taste) with a kind and gentle curiosity.
- Describing the very fine details of what you are observing: what it looks like, it’s shape, colour, and texture of objects or of emotions e.g heavy or tense.
- Participating fully and noticing all aspects of whatever task or activity you are doing, with your full care and attention.
- Being non-judgemental and accepting – making no attempt to evaluate experiences or to control or avoid the experience. Bringing a kind and gentle curiosity to one’s experience is one way of adopting a non-judgemental stance.
- Focusing on one thing at a time from moment to moment. It is natural for distracting thoughts to creep in, and there is a tendency to follow and chase these thoughts with more thinking. The art of being present is to develop the skill of noticing when you have drifted away from the observing and sensing mode, into thinking mode. When this happens, it is not a mistake, but acknowledge it has happened, and then return to observing your experience.
Mindfulness is a skill that takes time to develop. Imagine the negative thoughts that keep coming into your mind, are coming from a loud radio, that is tuned to a negative station. The skill in mindfulness is not so much about turning the radio off, but more turning down the volume. In this way, the volume of the radio can be reduced, and therefore seem less disruptive and distressing.
I’m going to start going to a mindfulness course in the new year 🙂
I hope this has made sense and that by sharing what I’ve learnt through CBT, I’ve helped others too.
Thanks for reading as always lovely folks!
Until next time……