The other night I attended the ‘2nd Inaugural’ lecture of Paul Gilbert at the University of Derby. I have to admit that my fatigue and the fact the organiser requested our arrival for a “prompt start” whilst starting 10mins late left me redirecting my attitude from ‘come on then….tell me something new and outstanding’.
You can find out more about Paul Gilbert here. He’s a Clinical Psyhcologist who started his academic career in Economics, and has now established a centre for research in Compassion Therapy. A post grad course is also now available at Derby Uni. I wonder about specialist therapists when I’m drawn towards eclectic coaching.
I went to the lecture for a few reasons:
1. I believe in the power of compassion, demonstrating it, receiving it, noticing it.
2. I’m still not sure about how people everyday define the difference between empathy and compassion but I think it matters and that both are essential, and powerful in a mostly good way
3. Most therapeutic approaches I come across have valuable application in my coaching practice
4. Or maybe it was just that I had nothing better to do… And there was free wine
Gilbert defines compassion as “behaviour that aims to nurture, look after, teach, guide, mentor, soothe, protect, offer feelings of acceptance and belonging in order to benefit another person”
Requiring 2 psychologies of us:
COURAGE – to look and truly see another persons suffering
DEDICATION – the desire to help relieve it
That courage strikes me; I feel that definition. It resonates and explains, and soothes. Then, similar to when you learn a new word and consequently hear it everywhere. Or you buy a new car and the fact it’s in your conscious thought means you spot the same model repeatedly. I find myself noticing compassion. Or am I seeking it.
Talking to a friend about his friend in hospital, suffering, and I’m hearing how he’s seeing this, and how this friend is too young. And yet when are we ever old enough or ready for that? He doesn’t look away, instead he steps towards. It’s sad, and also I feel warmed by his courage. Because if not you, who? Life is simply richer with compassionate people around.
Later during a thinking pair session I’m hearing my thinking partner talk about giving time and attention to her business and why she does what she does. The drive and selfless desire to move towards injustice in the workplace, and work only where that can by applied. I appreciate her dedication.
It’s easier when we notice the suffering of others, to walk by, to empathise and then let that empathy float by. We have our own stuff going off. It’s easy to feel something, whether that’s discomfort, worry, anxiety, fear when someone else is suffering, and…well, what do you do with that?
What makes us move towards?
He said “Because I can’t imagine doing anything else”
What was it about these two people. How do they chose so quickly and easily that towards the discomfort, towards showing love, towards acceptance and understanding is their default direction?
Gilbert went on to describe compassion therapy and what became clear is that whilst compassion breeds compassion (with a known body of research demonstrating that behaviour lacking compassion clearly supports further behaviours lacking compassion, empathy, love) it starts with the self. Compassion for yourself.
Self-Compassion means having the courage to look into your own suffering and truly see it, with a dedication to doing what you can, and finding a way to sooth it. It means to nurture, to protect, and to accept yourself. And perhaps the latter is first! Acceptance before change, before self-mastery.
As humans we have 3 evolved emotions systems of Threat, Soothing and Drive. Compassion therapy starts with growing the capacity to self-sooth by overriding your vagus parasympathetic nervous responses; using your Soothing emotion system to reduce your Threat emotion system. This can start with practicing physiological exercises that stimulate this soothing centre (your sympathetic nervous system) such as long slow breathing, tapping out/counting breathing. Later in the therapy this leads to soothing thoughts and self-talk. Gilbert suggests that just as we can salivate from only thinking about food, or become aroused from just thinking about sex, we can cultivate compassion through attending to thinking about it.
I think of holistic yoga practice that incorporates flows with breathing and meditations.
Gilbert opines that the practice of doing these therapeutic exercises is itself is an act of self-compassion, and thus cultivates your Drive emotion system. Compassion becomes something that is sought. (For Drive system think needs and motivation).
Actually though, it doesn’t matter where you start, because looking outward to notice compassion will have a boomerang effect.
So what are you thinking about now?
When did you last demonstrate compassion? Remember that for a moment.
Imagine you’re your most compassionate self …what would you be like?
And please don’t be fooled that all this compassion and emotional mastery is for the soft minded. To step towards and to look deeply is actually the hardest way to be. It’s a choice.