Member Musings: A Strategy for Compassion

Catherine Auman, LMFT
Supervisors SIG Chair, LA-CAMFT

Back when I was studying for my NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Certification, we were taught that if one person can do something well, anyone can figure out their strategy and replicate it for themselves. NLP’ers were busy systematizing all kinds of strategies for excellence: better golf swings, improved eyesight, weight loss, and successful business applications. All fine and good, I thought, but why aren’t we codifying something important, like how to increase levels of compassion?

Buddhists offer a variety of techniques for increasing compassion: various mantras, meditations, remembrances, and so forth. I’m sure many people derive benefit from these practices. The problem is, it’s preaching to the choir. Anyone who would spend time every day practicing techniques to increase their compassion is probably already high on the scale of open heartedness.

It seems to me that the Universe itself contains an inbuilt strategy for increasing our compassion whether we want it or not, and whether or not we recognize it as such. When we suffer, which is an inevitable part of the human condition, our hearts break, and in that breaking is the possibility of the growth of compassion. When we hear about the suffering of others – the birds damaged by the BP oil spill, the victims of Haiti or Hurricane Katrina, the Tibetan nuns and monks tortured and murdered by the Chinese – the pain can seem unbearable. And then on a personal level, we all experience grief and loss, maybe when a love affair ends or through the death of a loved one. We feel overcome with pain because we don’t want anything to end, including our own lives. No one on this planet escapes having their heart broken.

The message in America seems to be to avoid suffering at all costs – take a pill, drink alcohol, eat a bunch of carbs and zone out, watch TV – anything other than allow this inherent process of compassion expansion to work its magic. When our main goal is to not feel bad, we miss this natural maturation process that teaches us to love and care for our fellow human beings.

When we learn to stop fighting the fact of suffering, we can accept it as a purposeful process in our lives. When we allow our hearts to break, we become more open and loving towards those close to us and to the whole world. Go ahead and experience the cracking of your own heart, and then let it break open some more. Allow the walls that keep it small and selfish to expand until you include all and everything in your love.

© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth