In his book, Resilient, Rick Hanson (2018) defines compassion as “the recognition of pain with the desire to relieve it”. For many of us, compassion is something that we easily give others but are challenged to give ourselves. Imagine if you treated yourself like you would a best friend – encouraging, understanding, warm and sympathetic. Imagine how it would feel to be less self-critical and more loving to yourself.
In Chinese Medicine, compassion is related closely to the Earth element or Spleen organ. It is our center, our core and our grounding. A balanced Earth element is evidenced by a healthy nurturing compassion to us and others. Signs of imbalance include an inability to give or receive compassion, someone who craves it constantly for themselves, or someone who is overly compassionate without clear boundaries towards others. Compassion also holds within it both elements of yin (stillness) and yang (active). Studies of the brain show that when we feel compassion, motor planning areas in the brain become active and start preparing for action.
Developing more self-compassion is possible, and you can get your brain to help you out. Allow yourself to remember a time you felt cared for by someone – be it people or maybe pets – and open yourself up to what it felt like to be cared for. Then imagine a person or people you have compassion for and let yourself feel your warm-heartedness to them fully. Let it fill you up and flow through you. Then direct that same feeling towards yourself. After you have immersed yourself in that experience of self-directed compassion and love, focus on what is enjoyable about the experience. Be as detailed and specific as you can. Take your time with it. By focusing on what is enjoyable about the experience, dopamine and norepinephrine will help prioritize the activity and begin to embed it in the brain.
Compassion is a powerful inner strength, which we can develop, which will serve us and others in our world.
Deborah Dick, L.Ac
Hanson, Rick. (2018). Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness. Harmony Books.