I am not a buddhist, and as I wrote here I believe a therapist’s individual politics and religion should not intrude on the therapeutic relationship. However I do believe there are universal truths, ones we recognise as being, for want of better words, healthy, wholesome, leading to healing.
I also had the great good fortune to meet the Dalai Lama while volunteering at the Tibetan children village in Himachal Pradesh. It was a brief meeting, I don’t want you to think we are on first name terms, a few minutes, a blessing, and he moved on. However I felt as if we were on first name terms, I felt as if I mattered to him, and that, I believe, was motivated by his practice of compassion.
What is compassion? It is a nurturing of the heart, an opening of the heart, and it is, I believe, at the very center of therapy. Or it should be. Sadly almost every day I hear from people who have felt let down by therapy. All too often this is because they have felt judged by a therapist. Compassion is not the same as sympathy, it is not floods of tears when you hear another’s story. Compassion is having that open heart which accepts and understands another’s view, another’s life, another’s choices. Compassion does not try to change someone, or impose what you think is best for them.
Can you nurture compassion? Can you become more compassionate? I certainly believe, and, hope so. Theory, whilst it may sound dry actually helps with this. For example here I wrote about some of the causes of child abuse. (CN for discussion of child abuse and domestic violence on this link). If we understand how abusers are formed, often by abuse in their own childhood, we can develop our compassion. If we see a young person struggling to make sense of their world, rather than a “thug” or a “hoodie” we can have compassion towards those whom previously we might have feared.
Another way we can nurture compassion is by listening to those whose lives are different to ours. Social Media is wonderful for this, we can learn about the issues others face directly from them. For me twitter has taught me about racism, transphobia, prejudice and taught me concepts like privilege from the direct experience of others. When you open your mind to new ideas then your heart is opened too. It is very hard to judge someone when you understand them, their fears and choices.