The Power of Compassion

It was so surprising. Disarming, even.

On the eve of President Biden’s inauguration last year, while watching the televised memorial for the more than 400,000 lives then lost to Covid-19, I felt a moment of grace. A moment of blessings and memory. Kindness and compassion.

No doubt millions of others felt it, too.

Like so many families, mine knew we would likely lose a loved one that week. The odds were great. The aloneness we experienced, far flung from each other, felt unbearable.

But something enormous shifted that night. There by the Lincoln Memorial’s reflecting pool, the collective reckoning, the naming, the honoring of our shared painful experience of loss was also the healing.

Even as a teacher of ILA’s Mindful Self-Compassion course, in my aloneness I had forgotten the power of compassion and the wondrous balm it becomes when I offer that same kindness to myself.

Humans are social creatures not meant to carry on alone. But often when you and I are low, sorrowing, worrying, or feeling inadequate, we tend to isolate or feel isolated. Stigma, shame, and a perceived need for self-protection are just some of the barriers to connection and care, compassion and kindness. We heap misery upon ourselves by not recognizing that everyone suffers. We grieve, we fail, we disappoint, we fear, we let others and ourselves down. While the circumstances differ, painful feelings are universal.

It’s easy to forget that misery actually needs company – or rather the feeling of company and connection to help us through. As psychologist Kristin Neff, co-creator of the Mindful Self-Compassion curriculum, shares, “One of the most important elements of self-compassion is the recognition of our shared humanity… a basic mutuality in the experience of suffering.”

And with that recognition, you and I can always turn towards ourselves. That is the compassion and kindness that’s always available when we are or feel alone.

Come, practice and learn among friends the essential life skills of Mindful Self-Compassion. My next Deepening MSC begins January 20th and The Short Course in Mindful Self-Compassion begins February 2nd – both at 5pm on ZOOM.

Wendy Schmelzer, LCSW

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