Self-Compassion & Empathy

We can nurture balance, wisdom, and strength during our meditation practice. We can also strengthen our ability to be compassionate to ourselves and others with specially developed compassion practices.

Why Are Compassion Practices Useful?

What we do more of becomes more natural to us.

When we spend time actively thinking compassionate thoughts we change our experience of life. With practice, we can become more self-compassionate and empathetic with others.

On Empathy

As vulnerability researcher Brene Brown says, when we relate to others, and particularly to someone who is experiencing pain or sadness in life, rarely can the words we offer them actually make things better. Instead, what makes things feel better is a sense of connection.

Empathy, very different from sympathy, fuels connection. It’s a sense of “feeling with people.”

In our compassion practices, we remember that we are all experiencing the vast range of human emotions that are often difficult to handle. Video: Brene Brown on Empathy/YouTube

On Self-Compassion

Dr. Kristin Neff, a self-compassion researcher, talks about the benefits of self-compassion versus self-esteem. She says that “Self-esteem is a global evaluation of self-worth, a judgment of ‘Am I good or bad?’” and is contingent on success. But self-compassion is different. “It’s not a way of judging ourselves, it’s a way of relating to ourselves kindly.” Self-compassion offers many benefits that self-esteem doesn’t.

In her TED Talk, The Space Between Self-Esteem & Self-Compassion, Dr. Neff lists three core components of self-compassion:

1. Self-kindness

Treating and speaking to ourselves like we’d treat a good friend.

2. Common Humanity

Whereas self-esteem asks, “How am I different and better than others?” self-compassion asks, “How am I the same as others?” After all, we are all living through failures, losses, joys, and successes, which simply vary by details.

3. Mindfulness

This refers to the living awareness of what exists in the present moment. We need to be able to acknowledge what is happening in order to give ourselves compassion. Often we aren’t even aware of what is happening. Then, when we’re self-critical, we don’t give ourselves the compassion we need to move forward peacefully.

The Brain’s Negativity Bias

Compassion practices also provide food for the mind that can help to soothe the brain’s negativity bias. The mind, left untrained, tends to notice and capture what is wrong more than what is right.

When we sit with a compassionate approach to our own inner experience, we can recognize that there is more to life than the sense of heaviness we sometimes feel inside, and we can train habits of body and mind towards a gentler and kinder daily experience.

Monica MaurinMonica Maurin has studied mindfulness and Yoga internationally with Sarah Powers of the Insight Yoga Institute, Mindful Schools USA, Sananda Yoga Toronto, and at the University of Toronto. Along with teaching both corporately and in the community, she curates articles for slow + sense and is the director of Mindfulness Training Toronto’s online resources. She develops meditation programs, resources, and CDs, including Mindfulness for the Workday.