Meditation: Calm, How to Meditate: Strong Compassion Length: 11 minutes Where: Noho Park, Los Angeles How It Felt: Like a mental shift
Another nice, warm day, another walk in the park. Literally. So nice to soak up that sunshine and fresh air. I’m acutely aware that I’m not going to have this much downtime maybe ever again in my life, so I’m really trying to take advantage of it as much as possible.
I did a pretty powerful meditation in a patch of soft grass and bright sunshine, the next in the “How to Meditate” series. When I saw the title, “Strong Compassion,” I actually felt a bit nervous. My “thing” is generally being overwhelmed by my deep compassion for others. My empathy goes both deep and wide, and I walk around the planet a bit of a raw nerve.
I’m sensitive, and I always have been. I was always the kid trying to save a hurt animal or defending bullied kids. I would lie in bed unable to sleep thinking about injustice in the world. My siblings always waited for the inevitable moment in a film or tv show when I would start crying (and still do to this day, the jerks!) I’m not ashamed of it. I have a big heart and being able to feel the pain of someone who isn’t myself makes me good at my job. It motivates me to do good in the world, to try to help people, and to stay open-minded to experiences outside of my own.
But still, it’s a lot to go through life this way sometimes, and I wasn’t too excited to dive deep into a “have even more compassion” exercise in the middle of a beautiful afternoon.
I was happily surprised when I realized that wasn’t the lesson at all. It was actually pretty incredible and focused on the difference between compassion and empathy. Compassion can be sustainable and allow us enough space to take action or simply be present for someone, whereas empathy, as I know all too well, can burn us out quickly.
Taking on the emotions of others is part of the reason I’m such an introvert. I love connecting with other people, but I can’t help but absorb their energy and tire out. Strong compassion may be the answer I didn’t even know I was looking for. I really have no idea, to be honest, but I’m definitely going to do some work on this!
During the meditation, we were supposed to visualize someone we care about struggling or hurting, and feel what compassion felt like vs our natural response (mine: deep, painful empathy.) Immediately our youngest came to mind- my stepdaughter. She’s one of the most loving, sensitive, kind, and generous humans I’ve ever known, and on more than one occasion I’ve had to watch someone close to her take advantage of her sweet nature. It’s something I witnessed time and again with my siblings growing up (and still sometimes today), and it breaks my heart. It wrecks me.
Some days, I just want to wrap them all up in bubble wrap and keep them far away from those jerks in the world who would let a child (or grown adult) suffer for their own gain. It’s horrifying.
So, that’s what happened for me immediately- heartbreak. Then, somehow, we tried changing our energy to a more compassionate stance. Holding space, being present. I can’t really describe the difference, but I wish I could. It was like I could step back and see the big picture. I could see that I just needed to love her, and be there if she needs me. I could see how strong she is, how beautiful her heart is, and I could believe she would be okay.
I could feel myself making the situation about her instead of about how much her pain hurt me.
If I can harness this shift, I can deal with painful situations more often in life without shutting down. I can prevent overwhelm and turn my feelings into action more consistently. This felt like the type of paradigm shift too simple to properly explain but too powerful to forget.
I expected that meditating daily would make me a big calmer, a bit less reactive. It’s really changing me, though, in ways I never saw coming. It’s forcing me to grow in ways I didn’t even realize I needed to grow. I’m humbled and blown away. Totally grateful.
I’ll always be a deep empath, and I never want that to go away. I do, however, welcome any and all tools that keep me functioning while I have to face hard things. Add one more lesson to the Year of Meditation list!