The What & How of Compassion

Life always calls for compassion! Generating compassion for family, friends and community when we are all in this time of disruption may be more challenging than usual. Humanitarian, author and Zen Buddhist scholar Roshi Joan Halifax describes the following four conditions as a map for creating compassion: the capacity to attend to the experience of others; to feel concern for others; to sense into what will serve others and to act in order to enhance the well- being of others. That is the what of compassion and following is the how of compassion.

To be able to follow this map and navigate the terrain to generate these conditions for compassion, she teaches a process of G.R.A.C.E. To begin, we gather our attention. The affirmation Be Here Now is useful. To get here, use the instruction to put your mind and body in the same place at the same time. Do this preferably by placing attention on feeling one place in your body where you are already receiving strong input based on your homunculus (face, hands genitals, feet). Take a few slow breaths, with a long exhale.

The next G.R.A.C.E. step is to recall intention. Connect to what is motivating you to do what you are doing right now and FEEL its alignment with your values. As you prepare to engage, attune to self and other. Using the perspective of yourself as a happening in continual co-creation with your environment (inner, outer, other), pause and sense into your somatic experience all that is happening in your interaction as it unfolds. While we may be conditioned to react to the situation at hand with either helping or fixing, Halifax reminds us to consider what will serve. When we respond with service, we are appreciating the whole context of the situation and acting skillfully to relieve the suffering we have attuned to by sensing what is happening in ourselves and the other person. Engage and end is her final step. Once you are clear on what will serve, take the compassionate action you are able to take with the resources at hand. Sometimes this engagement may generate creative solutions for meaningful change. Other times, engagement is bearing witness together the suffering we experience in the uncertainty of not knowing the outcome of our situation. End with creating some symbolic gesture, such as shaking out your hands, or momentarily bowing your head, to signal to yourself you are closing the encounter to prepare for a next encounter.


Self Appreciation

The Yoga tradition describes the human being as having five bodies described as treasures: a body, systems of energy that animate and operate the body, a mind and emotions that experience the world through the body’s sensory systems, an intuitive mind-body that witnesses and processes all experiences and a spiritual body from which all other treasures arise, yet untouched by them. This provides a schematic for appreciating each of your five treasures.

  1. Select a body part that is today’s favorite. Explore your choice.
  2. Decide to marvel about any aspect of how your body created the energy you needed to have done whatever you did today!
  3. Be curious about whatever is presently attracting (or distracting) your attention and how this is interacting with whatever emotion you are feeling right how that is determining your mood.
  4. Realize how wonderous and empowering it is to have a brain capable of bearing witness to its own thoughts and emotions!
  5. Grow quiet, place your hands over your heart as a dwelling place of your spirit and appreciate the source of your treasures¦¦.

Self- Massage


We can convey so much tenderness through touch yet our hands are also quite powerful. Consider getting in the habit of knowing where the sore spots in your body are. Many people have no idea that such places are present, until they explore and make these valuable discoveries.

Yogic medicine (Ayurveda), the earliest form of mind-body medicine, describes the body as crystalized mind and purports whatever flows through the mind has an immediate effect upon the body. In this way, tender spots in the body are somewhat like a divining rod, pointing the way to where we hold our tension so we can learn to pay attention to our habits that direct it there.

Use the KISS method: Keep it simple and sensate. At the end of your bath or shower, use your hand like a gentle squeegee, gliding SLOWLY over your skin to slough off the water before toweling off. Cover the terrain of your whole body, including scalp, face and soles of feet. Get to know the places that feel dull and those that feel comforting and those that are particularly sensitive.

You will learn to recognize patterns of areas frequently calling for attention. Heat? Cold? Ointment? Massage roller? Be curious. Enjoy experimenting with what feels the most comforting or energizing.

Intention Setting

Intention Setting

Whether or not we are conscious of our intentions, they continually shape our reality. Intention setting is often confused with goal or resolution, but discerning the difference is an essential teaching.

Intention setting is oriented to the mechanics of the fulfillment of the desire that is motivating our goal. Our intention describes how we will BE in order to HAVE what we seek.

Consider reverse engineering your goal. When your goal is achieved, you will feel _____? To arrive at your intention, create a present tense statement of feeling this way. For example, I am self-compassionate and patient (intention) as I develop a habit of thirty minutes of moderate physical activity 5/7 days per week for the next 90 days. (goal) The key insight is deciding to feel _____ (self- compassionate and patient) established intention/ how to BE so you may create the conditions to motivate and support you in the pursuit of your goal.

Once you make a decision, the whole universe conspires to make it happen.
Ralph Waldo Emmerson