Let’s say your colleague, or friend, or child, or partner, or family member, or even a stranger starts sharing a problem that pains them deeply. And let’s give this individual the gender-neutral name of “Alex”. And also let’s assume that you sorta care, and do wish to help. For many of us, our habitual responses after Alex starts speaking, are likely to fall into one of five approaches which we sincerely believe to be a “compassionate response”, but … not really.
In the context of a compassionate conversation, what does this even mean? Well, if rhetorical questions function to make a point in the form of a question, whilst a socratic questions aim to expand thinking, and open-ended questions serve the purpose of co-discovering more, then ego-less questions may be understood as questions that the other person wishes to be asked so that they may speak their truth and thus be free from their suffering.
A question not asked, is a door not opened. Alternatively, you may also imagine a question as a beam of light in a pitch dark room…
Slowing down the present moment may be the fastest way to get to the heart of the matter. Because it is in slowing down that each moment reveals its depth and richness, and chronos (quantified time as measured linearly in units) makes way for kairos (qualitative time as in both timelessness and timeliness). When I slow down, I find myself more able to:
Slowing down means:
Dear reader, I’m glad your curiosity has led you here. It is my hope to share a bit of how I came to embrace compassion. This being a simplified story of how I learnt to re-purpose every knowledge at my disposal to heal myself (in conjunction with professional help, and it is important to stress that seeking professional help is critical)from a mental breakdown:
False emotions are essentially words that are trying very hard to hide their judgmental sting, either of others or of self. It’s like a furry jacket on an icy cold winter night that promises warmth, but when you put it on, you discover that it is lined with thorns 😓 Put another way, it’s another excuse to “interpret”, to “impose a judgment narrative”, to “stay in the head”, instead of dropping into the bodily sensations of suffering.
As you continue reading, kindly keep in mind that the principle is more important than semantic precision as the science of emotion is…
During a conversation when someone is sharing their suffering with you, and you are heartfully listening, how do you truly signal that you’re fully present to, and with, them?
Being fully present with another human being in their suffering is not the same as “I get it”, because I don’t believe anyone can truly “get” another person’s suffering. Though there may be similarities, suffering is fundamentally, an intimately private affair. Even assuming that you can walk in their shoes, it remains that both your feet are different. If you buy into that premise, logically then “I understand …” becomes an…
Heartful listening is an active and embodied process of sustaining focused attention on the speaker, in the absence of one’s ego.
Active because I am filtering out distractions (i) from the immediate external environment (including my phone), and (ii) arising internally from my own biases and filters.
Embodied because I am attending to tone of voice, somatic expressions, and word patterns. Often I find it useful to alternate between listening with my eyes closed (but still facing the speaker), and looking intently at the speaker, for brief moments.
The above is more likely to be achieved when my ego’s not…
Compassion is a conscious willingness to 1) endure with another their suffering, and then 2) to alleviate the suffering by using the most appropriate means possible, and 3) in ways that preserve the dignity of all involved (meaning you need to have an ethical position about how to be in relationship — for more on this, listen to Thupten Jinpa). Which means that compassion is neither an emotion, nor a behaviourial trait, nor an intention. From this description, I hope it is evident that it takes alot of courage and skills to be compassionate.
Mindfulness being the ability to sustain…
Step 1: This question makes sense only if you genuinely believe that you are acting with compassion in response to your perception of Alex’s suffering. Which means the first thing to do then is to check-in with yourself:
#1: Is Alex reacting because you are being “fake compassionate”? If yes, ask yourself if you have the capacity to be compassionate in that moment, because being compassionate requires courage and focus. It’s ok if you can’t, for whatever reason, in which case switch focus to just listening. If you believe you’re not being “fake compassionate”, move onto question 2.
Being compassionate is equally about giving, as it is about receiving. While many of us are willing to commit to working on ourselves so we can be more compassionate to others (be careful thought of the 5 Fake Compassion), receiving compassion from others and/or ourselves usually triggers an instinctive resistance, often visceral. Why is that?
Let’s test three possibilities, and see how it lands with you as you read it. This is to say, try to connect with your inner knowing instead of taking what you read at face value. For ultimately, the truth of your interiority is known only…