[01/29/24] Mind-Body Monday: Ways to Be Kinder to Yourself & Build Self-Empathy

Hello my loves, Casandra MacAlan, here for some more Thought Pain Therapy. With everything going on in the world right now, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the subject of compassion again.


How do we practice compassion other than as an intellectual desire? How do we pull it down into our bodies, and our feelings and actually live with Compassion? It begins with compassion for ourselves, and that begins with forgiveness. I like to think that forgiveness is the gateway drug of compassion. Once we get high on forgiveness it is the most natural thing in the world to have it lead to compassion. Compassion for self, first and then for others. 


We all have tendencies to hold ourselves and each other to such unremitting standards, such perfectionist expectations, that it is hard to be compassionate to each other. It is hard to look at another’s plight and feel empathy, and that is essential for compassion. 

Now, empathy is often misunderstood. People compare it with the “golden rule: do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” But that is not true empathy. Often when we expect another person to act as we would, this catalyzes our internal judgment. Which makes it a personal decision about whether or not they deserve our empathy or compassion. Perhaps we say to ourselves, “I wouldn’t have done that, so I wouldn’t have been in their situation,” empathy done. Now, compassion feels a little foolish, or even unnecessary in all but a quickly fleeting thought. 


They are foolish, unwise, selfish, or just plain stupid. If they would’ve been smarter, then they wouldn’t be in the position they are in today. I certainly wouldn’t have, {motion to self} thus I don’t have much compassion for that. This mindset is easy to come by. Organized religions often preach that the righteous do not suffer, it is only the sinners that do. Thus this, often subliminal, thought process is not unusual at all. We all tend to automatically judge each other harshly, especially when they are acting in ways that we disagree with, ways we know would have been better. 


You might even say It is the hallmark of our Western society. It begins with the core belief that, “if we work hard enough, we will succeed,” which is predicated on the underlying belief that those who aren’t successful aren’t really willing to work for it.  It is the basis of something called, Social Darwinism - survival of the fittest, which comes from a psychological effect called, “Belief in a Just World.” 


“Belief in a Just World,” is in my opinion, one of the most detrimental thought processes that infect our society. It is the birthplace of people’s inhumanity to others. It is the unconscious belief that, (most simply put), bad things happen to bad people. Ergo, if someone is in a bad position or has something bad happen to them, then they must have done something to deserve it. Which is also the hallmark of victim blaming.  It is why we ask a rape victim what she was wearing, or why she was drinking. It is why we say “get a job” to a homeless person. It is even why we can emotionally write-off atrocities in other countries by perceiving them as somehow “justified”  and therefore more deserving of their plight, no matter how sad we might think it is. 


The “Just World Belief” tells our minds that if someone is living on the street we can automatically assume that they have done something wrong and therefore that they are unworthy of our assistance. We can place them in a category of “other” or “not our problem”. We tell ourselves stories about how they must have done something bad in this life or even a past life, like having “bad karma”. Maybe they are alcoholics or drug addicts or worse. We can separate them from us and those that we love. We can refuse to help because it is “not our fault or our problem” they're in the place they are today. Surely, it is their own or maybe societies as a whole. Either way you can’t expect us as individuals to try to help someone who isn’t willing to help themselves or has made bad choices. 


This is what is argued when a woman is raped. She shouldn’t have... “insert here”  and she wouldn’t have... “outcome there”. Or if a man is shot, beaten or robbed in the inner cities. They must have been... doing something illegal... not being smart... shouldn’t be living where they are, etc. 


This subconscious belief is even expanded out to tragedies like world hunger. They shouldn’t be living where there is no food, or having so many children they can’t feed...or complain to their government...or not be so lazy, or stupid, or even subject to conditions we might feel are related to  their own ethnicity or religion.


So why do we believe these things, even subconsciously? Why is it so easy to victim-blame? Why do we hold the “Belief in a Just World?” Well, because we feel it keeps us safe. If we hold to the belief that bad things only happen to bad people, then we will be safe if we remain “good”, whatever that means. Or smarter, or have more foresight, not be so foolhardy, or greedy, selfish or whatever...you name it. We can look at ourselves and our loved ones and believe that “we all” will be safe. We will not be harmed like those others who were unwise, or bad people, and who undoubtedly got what they deserved. “Sure, it’s sad”, we say while we shake our heads. “But...?” and we shrug with hands palm up, fingers spread, as if to say, “what can we do when people make bad choices.” 


However, since we are smart enough, then we will be safe. We and those we love will not be a statistic.


To the unconscious or unexamined mind, this belief is essential to keep us from our potentially debilitating thoughts on the chaotic and unpredictable nature of life. Because we, by and large, cannot consciously rest in a state of unknowing. We can’t go on living our lives freely without believing we have some control over this game of life. 


What about when all else fails and a horrible thing does happen to a good person, despite our beliefs to the contrary. What do we do? What do we say? We still cannot allow for mere chance or simply bad luck. So we give another the blame or power to decide our fates, and we say, “it was God’s will, or they were too perfect for this world.”


We have to believe this because to think otherwise would leave us open to chaos. It would leave us subject to the possibility of that which we most fear, which is that we have no control over the fate of our life and the lives of those we love. We can’t keep them safe. We can’t keep any of us safe, and this is unacceptable. 


Many of us could not consciously continue enjoying our lives while simultaneously holding in our awareness thoughts of our own impending doom. That would cause what we call in psychology “cognitive dissonance, which is “the mental unease that happens when we have contradictory thoughts or beliefs or attitudes at the same time. Like, the existential awareness of life and of our own mortality. We have to push the knowledge of our own impending death, down and away, in order to continue on planning, creating, experiencing and enjoying our lives while we have them. 


So knowing this, how can we change it? How can we open our hearts and minds to empathy and compassion? Firstly, we have to consciously acknowledge that sometimes we can’t understand the ebb and flow of positive and negative experiences. That we don’t have the control we think we do. That bad things do happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. That prayer is often not a demonstrable predictor of positive change. While it can feel good in our hearts and minds and even help to create and maintain social relationships, it is not a scientifically proven form of protection or prevention. 


The outcome of this understanding is that ALL beings are capable of beautiful and horrible things. Of moments of enlightened grace and terrible depravity. That the capacity for the best of all humanity and the worst of all humanity is within us, and it is up to us to act in accordance with what we perceive to be our greatest and highest good in this lifetime. 


We have to live consciously. Taking responsibility for our lives and their correlation to our thoughts and belief systems, like the phrase, “if you want to know what you believe, look at your life.” To practice the laws of attraction, the art of manifestation and continue striving for positive change within ourselves first. 


To open our hearts to the knowledge that everyone we will ever meet is suffering in some way we may never know. That they deserve our kindness, compassion and forgiveness.  As the Dalai Lama said, “only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.” People deserve both our empathy and attempt to understand their position. For that is what empathy truly is. It is treating others as they would most like to be treated. Without judgment. Without condemnation. Without reservation, and without expectation.


When we are empathetic, we are understanding (to whatever extent we can be) of the circumstances of another person, and its ill effects. We are capable of compassionate listening without creating arguments or suggestions in our minds of better choices or decisions. In other words, we stop making arguments for our own safety, and we simply rest our minds in the knowledge that someone is unhappy, and we seek to be present in that state with them without attempting to fix their problems or make them stop hurting. Without trying to solve or soothe, we learn to just be and live in connection. Whether you like it or not we are all dependent on one another. We are all sharing this amazing experience called life and we all need and deserve love. All of us.


I will end today with another quote by the eminent Dalai Lama, “If we want others to be happy, practice compassion. If we want to be happy, practice compassion” The Art of Happiness