Those of us who pay attention to the spiritual dimensions of life know about compassion, one of the most important forms of loving-kindness. Validating modern psychotherapy’s latest findings, the Dalai Lama reminds us that compassion can positively re-wire the mind.
Simply put, compassion is feeling and expressing loving-kindness for people going through troubles or suffering. Obviously, there’s certainly no shortage of suffering in the world to feel compassion for. In fact, all types of suffering—physical and psychological—seem to be multiplying right before our eyes, not only in impoverished societies, but including a growing dispossessed homeless population everywhere you look.
Indeed, according to Buddhist logic, we will all suffer—even the rich and comfortable—because suffering is built in to the ego’s strategy of ever pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain. The very fear of suffering begets extra anxiety—even more suffering, as we criticize ourselves for being anxious to begin with! We often shame ourselves as if there’s something wrong with us when we don’t understand or can’t cope with feelings.
We don’t have to suffer the crippling effects of anxiety, however. There are healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety, instead of engaging in self-criticism and negative judgments or the abuse of addictive substances and behaviors, which only leaves us feeling empty and worse off. Self-compassion is the royal path of the heart. It is the art of directing a loving, forgiving energy towards yourself, with new perspectives on your old dissatisfactions, perceived failures, and frustrations.
It is soothing and helpful during times of stress to focus your conscious mind on personal images of kindness, understanding, and love, in order to cultivate those feelings within yourself. Find some sacred images that appeal to you and move your soul. Print them out and post them around your space. You will train your mind to combat anxiety-causing thoughts and emotions with the powerful presence of love and acceptance. You will become happier.
Self-compassion is coming to the forefront of psychotherapy, as per an excellent book by Dr. Dennis Tirch called The Compassionate-Mind Guide to Overcoming Anxiety: Using Compassion-Focused Therapy to Calm Worry, Panic, and Fear. Dr. Tirch writes about how treating ourselves with compassion has a huge impact on the quality of our lives and our ability to deal with inner difficulties, such as anxiety, fear, shame and depression.
In his book, Dr. Tirch writes, “Compassion begins with a deep understanding of just how tricky our brains are and a recognition that they are not that well put together! Once we recognize how difficult our emotions can be, we can stand back from them and feel compassion for the difficulties we experience.”
As we learn how to not take life’s challenges so personally, and to forgive ourselves for our imperfections by cultivating self-compassion, the uncomfortable effects of anxiety will diminish in our lives.
According to Dr. Tirch, “If you’re able to tolerate your anxiety-related distress and accept that anxiety is a part of life, then you’ll also be able to work with it and around it—in short, you’ll be better able to function in your life.” Just reading Dr. Tirch’s book and interviewing him for my Pathways podcast helped me enormously. (Now please excuse me while I take a deep breath and give myself a hug! 🙂