May 4, 2020
Responding with Compassion
At a time when so many lives are touched by loss, our former ways of relating to others may no longer be adequate.
This is a time to extend ourselves, to express care and compassion, to expand our circle of concern to include the needs of others – especially when they’re experiencing personal loss or grief.
There is so much to grieve right now: the loss of loved ones, lost jobs and income, loss of connection with others, canceled weddings and family gatherings, the inability to visit an aging parent, the sense of unease, uncertainty, and insecurity about the future.
There’s a good chance that some of those you interact with day-to-day are experiencing loss. Some will express their feelings, but grief can also show up as withdrawal, avoidance, overwhelm, exhaustion, even anger. It can be hard to tell when someone is grieving. Some will control or minimize their emotional experience, focusing more intently on tasks.
Even when we’re aware that someone is dealing with loss, we may not know how to respond. Perhaps we don’t know them well, or our interactions with them have focused around work. Maybe we’re overwhelmed with our own struggle or emotion. Perhaps we simply don’t know what to say. It’s sometimes easier to look away.
How can we be there for others?
Compassion is hard. It requires the willingness to be present with suffering, extending ourselves and widening our circle of compassion. Compassion is a response to the suffering of others that shows understanding, care, and concern.
Here are some ways you can generate and convey compassion:
You can use the tool of mindfulness to bring awareness to your own reactions.
If you find it difficult to let go of something because it has such a strong hold on your mind, you can direct your attention to what ‘holding’ feels like. Holding on is the opposite of letting go. Practice letting go of challenging conversations and emotions. Letting go helps engage the attitude of acceptance. Acceptance is not passive. It means staying open to life’s experiences, even when it’s hard, and even though we may not like what’s happening.
You can begin by accepting yourself as you are and accepting situations as they are, knowing that nothing is permanent.
- You can bring more compassion into the way you relate to others.
- Acknowledging the pain and the challenges. This is a way of coming alongside the other person to say,
It’s understandable, given what you’ve shared with me.
It hurts my heart that you are going through this.
I know this is hard.
I’m sorry you are going through this.
I understand how this situation is causing distress and concern about your future.
- Offering support, for example,
I wish I were able to make this situation better. Here’s what I am able to do to help you…
My heart goes out to you. Here’s what I am able to do to help you…
What do you need right now? How can I help?
How can you take good care of yourself right now?
Because people sometimes withdraw when experiencing loss and grief, you might reach out with a note or another act of kindness, letting them know you’re thinking of them. You might share words of encouragement such as,
I am sending you well wishes. You are brave and strong and will get through this.
Sometimes simply being present is often the most supportive act of all.
“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
You can engage in self-care and self-renewal
- By treating yourself with kindness and tenderness. By tending to your own physical and emotional wellbeing, you’ll have the capacity to extend yourself to others.
- Connecting with the breath. As you inhale, feel loving-kindness fill your body. As you exhale, send well-wishes to the person.
- Checking in with yourself, asking, “What do I need most right now?” and listening to what comes up for you.
- Cultivating compassion by reciting phrases such as,
May I find meaning and joy in my work,
May I communicate easily and effectively,
May I not take things personally,
May I be kind to myself.”
Remember that compassion can be generated – called forth in any moment as needed, allowing us to respond to others and to ourselves with a warm and open heart.
“When there is a great disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.”- Pema Chodron
Written by Kathleen Jones.