Growing up Catholic I never recall hearing the word “compassion.” I never heard this word uttered in church, during mass or at home. I had on the other hand, as a social work student heard about the concern about “burnout.”

I recall a conversation during grad school when I argued with one of my professors. I attended classes at the Mandel School at Case Western Reserve University and to be included in the advanced standing program I had to have been employed as a social worker at least five years. in no way, shape or form dis this make me any smarter than anyone else. I never suffered from that delusion. I do on the other hand take great pride in my ability to look at things differently. i learned many years ago from my father that “things aren’t always as they appear. You could say I learned to argue. This professor I’m sure thought I was a pain in the ass.

I do not argue for the sake of arguing. I will argue with you if I see your lack of willingness to see the other side of the coin. there are always at least two ways of seeing things. The discussion during class was about burnout. I suggested I did not believe in burnout. I believe that it, burnout is something which can happen to those in the helping professions if we really have no intrinsic understanding of what has drawn us to our profession. Burnout is something which can happen to those individuals who also choose not to take care of themselves physically and emotionally. I have spent the last twenty-seven years of my life performing social work. I am proud to say I enjoy my career as much, if not more than I did when I first entered the field.

I read with great interest this morning a post on the Huffington Blog from Roshi Joan Halifax called “Practicing G.R.A.C.E.: How to Bring Compassion Into Your Interactions with Others. As I read this post with a smile i thought this, compassion is what I have been practicing all these years without any direct knowledge what it was I was doing. i thought simply I was just taking care of myself by exercising, watching my diet (body) and practicing meditation and setting and maintaining healthy boundaries between myself and my work (emotional).

When I meditate I meditate on compassion. I have borrowed this from the Lojong tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Lojong is based on the view that self-centered thinking and behavior cause suffering for oneself and others, while other-centered, altruistic thoughts, emotions, and behaviors ultimately benefit both oneself and others. Compassion is the heartfelt wish that others be free from suffering and the readiness to act on their behalf. It arises from a deep sense of endearment for others, coupled with empathy for and sensitivity to their pain. This empathy arises both from a sense of closeness or connectedness to others as well as a recognition of the causes of their and one’s own suffering.

Jack Kornfield has a fantastic meditation on compassion.

Meditation on Compassion

To cultivate compassion, let yourself sit in a centered and quiet way. In this traditional form of practice you will combine a repeated inner intention with visualization and the evocation of the feeling of compassion. As you first sit, breathe softly and feel your body, your heartbeat, the life within you. Feel how you treasure your own life, how you guard yourself in the face of your sorrows. After some time, bring to mind someone close to you whom you dearly love. Picture them and feel your natural caring for them. Notice how you hold them in your heart. Then let yourself be aware of their measure of sorrows, their suffering in life. Feel how your heart opens to wish them well, to extend comfort, to share in their pain and meet it with compassion. This is the natural response of the heart. Inwardly recite the phrases:

May you be held in compassion.

May you be free from pain and sorrow.

May you be at peace.

Continue reciting all the while you are holding them in your heart. You can modify these phrases any way that makes them true to your heart’s intention.

After a few minutes, turn your compassion toward yourself and the measure of sorrows you carry. Recite the same phrases:

May I be held in compassion.

May I be free from pain and sorrow.

May I be at peace.

After a time, begin to extend compassion to others you know. Picture loved ones, one after another. Hold the image of each in your heart, be aware of their difficulties, and wish them well with the same phrases.

Then you can open your compassion further, a step at a time, to the suffering of your friends, to your neighbors, to your community, to all who suffer, to difficult people, to your enemies, and finally to the brotherhood and sisterhood of all beings. Sense your tenderhearted connection with all life and its creatures.

Work with compassion practice intuitively. At times it may feel difficult, as though we might be overwhelmed by the pain. Remember, we are not trying to “fix” the pain of the world, only to meet it with a compassionate heart. Relax and be gentle. Breathe. Let your breath and heart rest naturally, as a center of compassion in the midst of the world.

Deepen your compassion and go out into the world and share this amazing gift.

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