What does it mean to engage compassion, caring and appreciation in daily life?
How do we show up in in every interaction with others at home, on route to work and at work?
Is it possible to cultivate compassion?
Compassion can be considered an intentional orientation toward other living beings and the entire world community that understands and responds with care and insight to the complex set of causes that give rise to the myriad manifestations of suffering, pain, confusion and angst. Just as we can strengthen our muscles and enhance flexibility in our ligaments and joints via physical exercise, compassion can be trained via a series of mental exercises. Interestingly, health care providers (nurses, physicians, social workers, physical therapists, psychologists, etc) are in an ideal profession to perceive suffering and to use the muscles of compassion every day with patients and colleagues. HOWEVER, we frequently feel and observe the opposite of compassion — retracting from others, blaming others, suppression, nastiness, bullying, despair, depression and burnout. Why and what can we do?
Start small. When I wake in the morning, what is my motivation for getting out of bed? When at the front door to my workplace, can I pause for 5 seconds and consider what is my intention for taking the next step into my workplace? When I see a colleague in the hallway, in a meeting room or in the clinic, can I silently give thanks that she/he showed up today to work together with me to support and deliver health to others? I am not doing this ALONE. Can I make eye contact, smile and wish silently that each person I come into contact with today be well, be at ease, be free from the causes and conditions that give rise to physical, mental and spiritual pain, confusion and loneliness?
As a cognitive neuroscientist who studies brain circuits implicated in attention, emotion reactivity, emotion regulation and self-views in healthy adults and adults suffering from anxiety, depression and chronic pain, and psychosocial interventions for these human ailments, it is abundantly clear that we have the capacity to modulate our behaviors, beliefs, interpretations via the neural networks that make us human.
As a clinical and experimental psychologist, I know that behavioral and mental modification is possible, valuable and long-lasting. BUT is it really possible to cultivate compassion, care and appreciation for others (and incidentally toward our self)?