Showing CompassionIf a prophet had appeared six months ago to tell Americans that soon they wouldn’t be able to leave home without risking death, their jobs and businesses would be in jeopardy, the stock market would crash, and someone they know would probably die, the warning would have gone the way of a fringe conspiracy theory. Indeed, the United States is four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, unfathomable numbers of Americans have died, and all against the backdrop of the most divided political climate in recent history. Conventional reality has been upended, and it’s taking a toll on the entire country.

The Repercussions

The American Psychiatric Association recently found that nearly half of Americans are anxious about the possibility of contracting and even dying from COVID-19. The fear that a loved one will die plagues 60% of Americans as couples report fighting more, and alcohol use is on the rise.

How do you cope with unprecedented levels of fear and anxiety while navigating the everyday challenges of parenting, work, financial stress, illness and loss? It turns out simply being present with the pain and fear in yourself and others actually functions to alleviate the suffering. The ability to express compassion is needed now more than ever before.

The Role of Compassion

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” These words of the Dalai Lama speak to the collective importance of compassion. When you earnestly practice it with self or others, you gain more strength and serenity, and those qualities will transfer to everyone with whom you associate.

Every religion and spiritual tradition values compassion. Jesus and Buddha embodied compassion in ways that have inspired followers to build their entire spiritual identities around it. The practice is studied with more frequency than nearly any other spiritual principle. Most accounts agree that practicing compassion:

  • Increases contentment and decreases fear
  • Reduces stress through cognitive restructuring
  • Promotes more meaningful social connections
  • Strengthens the immune system and promotes good health
  • Encourages kind and compassionate behavior in others

Expressing compassion requires you to depart from your own point of view and step fully into another being’s experience. You might find this second nature, or you might wonder how to practice it when you’re feeling fear or anger or contempt.

Compassion in Practice

The willingness to be present for the experience of suffering, coupled with the authentic desire to relieve suffering, is the essence of compassion. Meditation is used to cultivate loving kindness across spiritual traditions. Tonglen is the potent Tibetan practice of working directly with the human tendency to avoid suffering and seek pleasure. Volumes of teachings are available about this unique and effective practice. The Buddhist Goddess Kuan Yin represents the divine quality of compassion. Buddhists believe that when you attune to Kuan Yin in meditation, she will grace you with the capacity for compassion.

A Simple Exploration

Creating a compassion collage is a simple visual way to awaken loving kindness in yourself. This practice can slowly grow your capacity for compassion and ultimately send ripples of serenity through your inner circle and out to the world.

Collect magazine or website images, symbols and words that engage your heart: a departed loved one, an animal in distress, the aftermath of a natural disaster. This is meant to elicit feelings. Affix the images to a piece of cardboard, and locate the collage where you’ll see it regularly. Allow your feelings to arise and wash over you for as long as you can, and then release them. Repeating this cycle for even a couple of minutes per day can grow your ability to be compassionate with yourself and others.

In this unprecedented time of uncertainty, you may wonder what you, as one person, can do to help yourself and your loved ones cope. Cultivating compassion – expressing kindness in the face of pain – may be the key to sustained progress and a brighter future for America and beyond.  

Category: Loss

funeral culture Grief communication self care

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