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April 13, 2021

Practicing Compassion

Research is revealing that compassion is so much more than just a kind reaction to another person’s suffering. It’s an essential skill that can be improved over time to transform life toward health and increase happiness.

“When we help someone out of our genuine concern for her well-being, our levels of endorphins, which are associated with euphoric feelings, surge in the brain, a phenomenon that we call the ‘helper’s high,’” says Thupten Jinpa, PhD, adjunct professor of religious studies at McGill University, and principal English translator to the Dalai Lama for three decades. “The warm feeling that we get from our own compassion has been found to help release oxytocin—the same hormone released by lactating mothers—which is associated with bonding with others and even reduced levels of inflammation in the cardiovascular system, an important factor that plays a role in heart disease.”

Aside from the release of positive neuro-chemicals compassion brings us closer to others and rewards us by feeling better about ourselves. It creates a sense of generosity, hope, and overall a more positive outlook.

How to practice compassion

Compassion starts by listening and understanding a situation from the other person’s perspective, without fixing it, and without absorbing the pain ourselves. When we can fully be present with another person both people begin to feel calmer, more centered, and the inner emotional waters begin to settle. It is in that space that a new creative spark – a shift in the feeling tone, a new insight, a decision – can emerge.

In therapy we practice compassion for ourselves, for inner aspects that have been hurt, have been exiled, or unwanted and abandoned. We do this in the presence of another, the therapist, who shows by her example that the patient is worthy of compassion, understanding, and love. This is the bases that allows for positive change that grows from within and is not super-imposed by people, circumstances, guilt or shame.

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