Compassion, a few more drawings, several related quotes and the roles we play….

“Compassion starts coming to us because we have the aspiration to do the practice and to get more in touch with our own pain and our own joy. In other words, we are willing to get real.” From Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön

“Sometimes people don’t trust the force of kindness. They think love or compassion or kindness will make you weak and kind of stupid and people will take advantage of you; you won’t stand up for other people.” Sharon Salzberg

“We can learn the art of fierce compassion – redefining strength, deconstructing isolation and renewing a sense of community, practicing letting go of rigid us-vs-them thinking – while cultivating power and clarity in response to difficult situations.” Sharon Salzberg

“One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation, and compassion.” Simone de Beauvoir

“We can embrace kindness and compassion, fairness and justice, honesty and integrity, not as imposed obligations to which we must conform, but as qualities which enrich our lives and our relationships with others.” Alice Roberts and Andrew Copson

“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.” Poem by Rumi











Today I was planning to write something on meditation [I’ve been meaning to do that for quite some time now], but I ended up writing a bit more about compassion because there are so many different angles to approach it and I felt I needed to add a few more points to the previous post.  I’ve also included some more artwork, a mediation practice, and an introduction to a podcast about the roles we play in life, the ones we choose and the ones we are sucked into.

α) Ι ended the previous post with a self-compassion meditation by Dr Christine Neff, whose work focuses on compassion turned inwards. This kind of compassion requires we are kind and accepting rather than harsh and critical towards ourselves, especially when things don’t go our way, when we feel we have failed, when we are in pain or when we face difficulties. Self-compassion is basically acting the same way towards our self when we are suffering or having a difficult time as we would to a friend.. Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing ourselves for our human limitations, mistakes or shortcomings, we honor and accept our humanness. Neff writes: “This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.”

Neff claims that compassion for oneself is no different than having compassion for others. She writes “…to have compassion for others you must notice that they are suffering. If you ignore that homeless person on the street, you can’t feel compassion for how difficult his or her experience is. Second, compassion involves feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain. When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience. There but for fortune go I.” Pema Chödrön similarly suggests that “It is unconditional compassion for ourselves that leads naturally to unconditional compassion for others. If we are willing to stand fully in our own shoes and never give up on ourselves, then we will be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others and never give up on them. True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings.”

Neff distinguishes three elements of self-compassion. The first involves being kind to oneself and acknowledging that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable. When we resist this truth our suffering increases. The second is being aware of our common humanity. This involves recognizing the reality that all humans suffer and make unwise decisions at times. Neff writes: “The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect.” The third element involves mindfulness, which Neff describes as a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. It is not possible to be in denial or to push aside our emotions or pain and be compassionate. Compassion requires we are present to our own or others’ emotions and pain.

Neff also discerns fierce and tender compassion. In certain situations tenderness and acceptance are not appropriate and the right thing to do is to act fiercely, to set boundaries or stand up for our self. She claims that it can help women in the workplace and in relationships to succeed and set boundaries, and also break the silence about abuse, harassment and discrimination.  Neff writes: “Tender self-compassion involves “being with” ourselves in an accepting way: comforting ourselves, reassuring ourselves that we aren’t alone, and being present with our pain or discomfort.” On the other hand, fierce self-compassion involves protecting, providing and standing up for our self, saying no and setting boundaries.  She says “If tender self-compassion is metaphorically like a parent soothing his crying child, fierce self-compassion is like Momma Bear who ferociously protects her cubs when threatened, or catches fish to feed them, or moves them to a new territory with better resources.”

Women have through time been discouraged from developing the capacity to be fierce, and therefore, they need to reclaim it in order to both protect themselves and to create a healthier society. In general most cultures and society at large have not thus far focused on self-compassion and it is not something that has been encouraged. But practising and accessing self care, joy and self compassion are ultimately acts of resistance and survival.  Self compassion like self care and joy need to be reclaimed and practiced if not for our greater well being than at least for our own survival and wellness. Over the last few days I’ve been listening to talks from the JOY summit, where speakers mentioned that it is strategic to cultivate joy and that it is revolutionary and a measure of freedom. Similarly, self care and self compassion, especially for women, can be acts of resistance and honoring our right to be here, a process of becoming real and moving out of a doll state like existence. Patriarchy does not encourage these capacities in general, especially in girls, where often the belief has been that girls are destined to be the care takers of everyone, the ones to do the emotional labor of the family system, for instance, the ones to absorb the wounds of the group, the empathic containers of everyone’s discomfort or dysfunction.

Dr Dan Siegel discusses compassion in his book AWARE. In brief he begins by mentioning that research on mind training suggests that the three factors: focused attention, open awareness, and the training of compassion, or what he calls kind intention,  are some of the core ingredients of how we can create well-being and happiness in our lives. Kind intention: is the ability to have a state of mind with positive regard, compassion, and love internally (what is sometimes called “self” compassion, which he prefers to call “inner compassion” and compassion towards others, which he prefers to call “inter compassion”.  Dan Siegel writes: “This research suggests they each complement each other and support the movement toward well-being in the body and its brain, our relationships with self and other, and our mental life of attention, feelings, thoughts, and memory.” He also mentions something that most people know and that is that in the various religious and wisdom traditions throughout the world compassion is considered one of the highest values that enhance well-being in both the individual and the community.

In the previous post I referred to the difference between empathy and compassion. Dan Siegel writes that the perception of suffering in another requires a process called empathy, which can be viewed as having at least five aspects: feeling another’s feelings, seeing through the eyes of another, cognitive understanding  caring about the well-being of others, and sympathetic or empathic joy (feeling happy about another’s happiness or success). He suggests that empathic concern can be seen as the gateway for compassion and that compassion may not be possible without empathy that enables us to tune in to the inner life, the emotions and subjective experience, of others.  He also refers to the social neuroscientist Tania Singer, who has found that over identification with the emotional state of another person can lead to empathic distress; however, it is suggested that when emotional resonance is coupled with compassion, the individual can more easily retain a sense of balance and equanimity.

He writes: “Empathic resonance alone— feeling the suffering of another without empathic concern and compassion, and without the ability to skillfully differentiate oneself from the suffering of others— can lead to burnout. That is a potential downside to being tuned in to others without proper training in resilience— without the ability to be both linked and differentiated. In other words, we risk over-identifying and shutting down if integration is not maintained.” In the late 50s Carl Rogers also recognized the need to not over identify. He wrote: “The state of empathy, or being empathic, is to perceive the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy and with the emotional components and meanings which pertain thereto as if one were the person, but without ever losing the ‘as if’ condition. Thus it means to sense the hurt or the pleasure of another as he senses it and to perceive the causes thereof as he perceives them, but without ever losing the recognition that it is as if I were hurt or pleased and so forth. It this ‘as if’ quality is lost, then the state is one of identification (Rogers, 1959)

b) A compassion for self and others meditation / practice from Chris Germer’s website at:

c) I’d also like to share a recent Being Well podcast at:, in which Dr Rick Hanson and Forrest Hanson discuss the roles we play and the importance of being aware of the ones we get sucked into by others and the ones we consciously choose ourselves.

They discuss the roles we take on and how they shape us, the conscious and often unconscious reasons we take on roles and how we can end up crippled even by our strengths. For instance, we may be good planners or empathic listeners, but we can end up over extending ourselves. Rick Henson sums up ways for disengaging from problematic roles and drawing healthy boundaries. They refer to Sigmund Freud and some of his outdated or problematic theories, Carl Jung and Carl Rogers, object relations theory and psychoanalysis and issues that can arise during therapy. They explore concepts like enactment, splitting, triangulation, deep empathic listening and more.

In brief, enactment, is the acting out or unconsciously recreating the dynamics of early relationships in current contexts, including therapeutic contexts. Unexamined early experience or unhealed traumas and the ensuing emotions are misplaced on current relationships. Splitting is the tendency to view a person or situation as either entirely good (idealization) or entirely bad (devaluation). Splitting is a defense mechanism and it is normal in childhood. Ideally, as we go through the developmental stages we gain the capacity to perceive ourselves and others as complex beings with contradictions and both positive and negative attributes. Unfortunately, for many people healthy development is disrupted through trauma and social conditioning.

Triangulation is also discussed. Forrest refers to Family Systems Theory, which includes ideas about how families and organizational units function as contained systems with interactions that are governed by sets of rules. Rick and Forrest also provide examples of what might happen in  families or in friend groups. Triangulation, which I’ve written about in previous posts in relation to narcissism, takes place when two members of the triangle unite against the third one. These shifts and alliances reflect relational power dynamics. Being aware of the process of triangulation is important, in parenting and in sustaining more reciprocal and less imbalanced relationships.

Finally, they refer to Carl Rogers, the founder of the humanistic movement in psychology and creator of the client-centered therapy.  In relation to empathic listening Carl Rogers said “So, as you can readily see from what I have said thus far, a creative, active, sensitive, accurate, empathic, nonjudgmental listening is for me terribly important in a relationship. It is important for me to provide it; it has been extremely important, especially at certain times in my life, to receive it. I feel that I have grown within myself when I have provided it; I am very sure that I have grown and been released and enhanced when I have received this kind of listening.”

Compassion, drawings and the bittersweet….

“Compassion is bittersweet: there is the bitter of the suffering and the sweet of the caring. If you get overwhelmed by the suffering, including your own, then it’s hard to sustain the caring. So try to help the sweet be larger than the bitter in your mind. You can do this by focusing on a sense of tender concern, warm-heartedness, loyalty, and support in the foreground of awareness, while having a sense of whatever is painful off to the side.” Rick Hanson

“Compassion, as both salve and salvation, is not limited to the realm of the individual. If we are to dream of a healthier, less fractured world, we will have to harness and amplify compassion’s healing power.” Gabor Maté

“The real weapons of mass destruction are the hardened hearts of humanity” Leonard Cohen

“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

“You’ve got to keep the child alive; you can’t create without it.” Joni Mitchell

Today I’m posting more artwork. Musicians like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and others, whose bittersweet music and poetry have captivated me at times, are part of these drawings. Today’s post is also about compassion.










One of Cohen’s songs is titled The Days of Kindness and it is about his life on Hydra, a tiny Greek island []

Greece is a good place / to look at the moon, isn’t it
You can read by moonlight / You can read on the terrace
You can see a face / as you saw it when you were young
There was good light then / oil lamps and candles / and those little flames /that floated on a cork in olive oil
What I loved in my old life / I haven’t forgotten  It lives in my spine
Marianne and the child / The days of kindness
It rises in my spine / and it manifests as tears
I pray that loving memory / exists for them too
the precious ones I overthrew / for an education in the world

The Circle Game, lyrics by Joni Mitchell about time…

Yesterday a child came out to wander
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star

And the seasons, they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return, we can only look
Behind, from where we came                                                                                                   And go round and round and round, in the circle game

Then the child moved ten times round the seasons
Skated over ten clear frozen streams
Words like, “When you’re older” must appease him
And promises of someday make his dreams…..

As I mentioned today’s post is also about compassion.

The Oxford dictionary defines compassion as a strong feeling of sympathy for people who are suffering and a desire to help them. So, compassion is more than the ability to understand another person’s feelings or experience, because it also includes the desire to alleviate their suffering. Rick Hanson suggests that “Compassion involves sensitivity to suffering, a caring response, and a desire to help if one can.”

I will begin with some ideas from Dr Gabor |Mate’s book, The Myth of Normal, which I’m still reading. As I’ve said I’ve recently been drawing with an urgency of sorts, which means drawing has been taking up a lot of time, and that means that I’m making very slow progress through the several books that I’ve started with the intention to finish.

Anyway, Mate distinguishes five kinds of compassion. He begins with what he terms as Ordinary Human Compassion, which refers to our ability to be with and feel another’s pain. Mate claims that whether or not we experience another’s pain vividly, entry-level compassion requires we have the ability to be with another person’s suffering, to be able to register and be moved by their pain. He writes: “Interpersonal compassion necessarily involves empathy, the ability to get and relate to the feelings of another.” He also distinguishes compassion from pity, because pity involves looking down on another’s misfortune from some imagined higher status and sense of worth. He adds that “even if there is an actual power gap between us in the world— say, one born of a racial or economic hierarchy— treating it as if it is a permanent, essential fact about us does neither one of us any favors.”

Then he discusses what he calls Compassion of Curiosity and Understanding, which he writes could also be called the compassion of context. This requires us to ask why any person or group of people would, for instance, live or suffer the way they do or end up being the way they are and acting the way they do. Trying to understand the deeper causes of people’s conditions and predicaments assists us in acting compassionately and in appropriate ways. Mate writes: “In today’s society we often default to easy explanations, quick judgments, and knee-jerk solutions. Questing with clear eyes to find the systemic roots of why things are the way they are takes patience, curiosity, and fortitude.”

The third compassion is called The Compassion of Recognition,  which allows us to understand that that “we are all in the same boat, roiled by similar tribulations and contradictions.” This aspect of compassion is about recognising our commonality as human beings and our connecting with our humanity.

The fourth is termed Compassion of Truth. Here Mate explores the value of truth and of being honest. He does however clarify that truth and compassion have to be reciprocal partners. We are not being compassionate by simply dumping difficult truths on others. He believes that there is nothing compassionate about “shielding people from the inevitable hurts, disappointments, and setbacks life doles out to all of us, from childhood onward”, because this is not only futile, but might prove harmful in the long run. Shielding others from the truth may be nothing more than a reflection of our own discomfort with our own wounds. In order for people to grow and heal their traumas there needs to be some reckoning with their traumas in safe contexts. Healing cannot occur without painful material surfacing and without our moving through the pain. Mate suggests that pain is inherently compassionate, as it alerts us to what is amiss. He writes “we all go into denial, suppression, repression, rationalization, justification, hazy memory, and varying grades of dissociation in the presence of hurt. …. Healing, in a sense, is about unlearning the notion that we need to protect ourselves from our own pain. In this way, compassion is a gateway to another essential quality: courage.”

And finally, the fifth compassion is The Compassion of Possibility, which refers to the fact that we are all more than our conditioned personalities that we present to the world, the unprocessed emotions we act out or project on others or the maladaptive at times behaviours we engage in. Mate writes “Staying open to possibility doesn’t require instant results. It means knowing that there is more to all of us, in the most positive sense, than meets the eye.”

“We are born to be good to each other.” Dacher Keltner

In his article The Compassionate Species at:, Dacher Keltner, PhD, argues that the fact, that our babies are the most vulnerable offspring on Earth rearranged our social structures, building cooperative networks of caretaking, and it rearranged our nervous systems. Thus, we evolved into the super care-giving species, to the point where acts of care improve our physical health and lengthen our lives.

Keltner explains the neuroscience behind these experiences. For instance, when we feel pain the anterior cingulate region of our brain will light up. But interestingly, that very same part of the cortex is activated when we witness other people’s pain. He writes “We are wired to empathize, if you will.” He also refers to a very old region of the mammalian nervous system called the periaqueductal gray, way down in the center of the brain, that lights up, which in mammals is associated with nurturing behavior. He concludes: “We don’t just see suffering as a threat. We also instinctively want to alleviate that suffering through nurturance.”

He goes on to explain how the vagus nerve, which is a part of our autonomic nervous system that starts at the top of the spinal cord and wanders through our body, through muscles in the neck that help us nod our head, orient our gaze toward other people and vocalize, is also activated when we witness the suffering of others. The vagus nerve  moves down and helps coordinate the interaction between our breathing and your heart rate, moves into the spleen and liver, where it controls a lot of digestive processes. Keltner writes: “Recent studies suggest the vagus nerve is related to a stronger immune system response and regulates our inflammation response to disease and helps us calm down every time we take a deep breath.

Keltner notes that their research supports that there are people who have really strong vagus nerves—“vagal superstars,” as he likes to call them. He also talks about the data that suggest humans are wired to care, down to the neurochemical level (see research around oxytocin). He refers to Nikos Christakis’ work, which I’ve written about in an older post and other research findings. He ends the article with the following: “So forget what you’ve been told about compassion—that it’s unnatural, that it’s for suckers. Compassion is essential to our evolutionary history, it defines who we are as a species, and it serves our greatest needs as individuals—to survive, to connect, and to find our mates in life.”

Finally, I’d like to share some practices related to compassion for the self and others by Dr Rick Hanson and Dr Kristin Neff:

A collection of 3 meditations from Rick Hanson, Founder of the Global Compassion Coalition at:

A compassionate body scan by Kristin Neff, whose work centres around self compassion, for deepening our sense of self-compassion and body awareness at:

Some drawings, the RAIN practice and books for children

“Our words, our deeds, our very presence in the world, create and leave impressions in the minds of others just as a writer makes impressions with his pen on paper, the painter with his brush on canvas, the potter with his fingers in clay. The human world is like a vast musical instrument on which we simultaneously play our part while listening to the compositions of others. The creation of ourself in the image of awakening is not a subjective but an intersubjective process. We cannot choose whether to engage with the world, only how to. Our life is a story being continuously related to others through every detail of our being: facial expressions, body language, clothes, inflections of speech— whether we like it or not.” Stephen Batchelor (1998)

“If each of us can learn to relate to each other more out of compassion, with a sense of connection to each other and a deep recognition of our common humanity, and more important, to teach this to our children, I believe that this can go a long way in reducing many of the conflicts and problems that we see today.” Dalai Lama

Today’s post contains some new drawings, a description of RAIN, a psychological tool or meditation practice that I have often engaged with myself, and some suggestions for children’s books.

















The RAIN practice was adopted and adapted by Tara Brach, a clinical psychologist, meditation teacher and writer. She explains that RAIN is a tool for bringing both mindfulness and compassion to emotional difficulty, but one can explore RAIN as a stand-alone meditation. It involves training our mind to notice and regard with compassion what is happening..

R stands for recognise. So this first step involves becoming aware of what is happening, acknowledging thoughts, feelings or behaviors that are affecting us.

A stands for allow. Letting the thoughts, feelings or behaviors be there without judging, avoiding or trying to change anything, simply accepting whatever is there. Tara Brach says allowing makes it possible to deepen attention.

I stands for investigate. With curiosity and compassion we feel into our body to see where the feelings and sensations are stronger and we sense what is needed or is being asked for right now. Questions that might facilitate the process might be: What most wants attention? How am I experiencing this in my body? What are my thoughts about this? What does this vulnerable place most need?

N stands for nurture. We are caring and tender towards our self. Tara Brach writes: “Self-compassion begins to naturally arise in the moments that you recognize you are suffering. It comes into fullness as you intentionally nurture your inner life with self-care. To do this, try to sense what the wounded, frightened or hurting place inside you most needs, and then offer some gesture of active care that might address this need. Does it need a message of reassurance? Of forgiveness? Of companionship? Of love?”


I like children’s books and I’ve on and off collected them since my son was born and maybe even before that. During  his early childhood and school years I worked in the afternoons and evenings, so bed time reading allowed time for connection and a way to seal the day with love and reading books during the weekends allowed us to explore ideas and talk about things or engage in art projects.

Five book suggestions for children (and adults).

Two books for very young children by Australian author Mem Fox: Koala Lou and Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge.

In Koala Lou the writer explores the need for unconditional love that all young ones need from their parents in order to thrive. To love unconditionally means that parents accept their children without restrictions or stipulations. There are no spoken or unspoken messages that cause children to feel or think they have to be something other or better in order to be loved.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is a book about a little boy who gets to know all the people living in an old people’s home next door to his house. One day he finds out that one of the ladies there has lost her memory and he sets out to find out what memory is so that he can help his friend.

The other two books are about ways to talk to children about death. Recently an old friend and neighbour passed away and one of the things that immediately crossed my mind when I heard the news was how difficult this would be for his young granddaughter. The little girl lives above her grandparents’ house and was accustomed to seeing her grandfather every day. This brought to my mind a little book written by Leo Buscaglia’s in 1982: The Fall of Freddie the Leaf (A Story of Life for All Ages), which as he writes is “dedicated to all children who have ever suffered a permanent loss, and to the grownups who could not find a way to explain it.”

“Will we all die?” Freddie asked. “Yes,” Daniel answered. “Everything dies. No matter how big or small, how weak or strong. We first do our job. We experience the sun and the moon, the wind and the rain. We learn to dance and to laugh. Then we die.”

Another beautifully illustrated book to help explain death to children is Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie.

“There is a beginning and an ending for everything that is alive. In between is living.”

Finally, a book for older children (and adults), a book that perhaps my eleven year old self would have enjoyed and would have been moved by, is Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian. The story reveals to us the horrors of war, the senseless destruction and untimely deaths, the reality of dire poverty, suffering and abuse, and the redeeming power of love, kindness, nature and community. It’s a good film to watch, too.

The story takes place in Britain during World War II. Young children are being sent from their homes in the city to the countryside for safety. Undernourished, timid, eight-year-old Willie Beech is sent to stay with Mister Tom a gruff but gentle man in his sixties, who is mourning a deep loss of long ago. Together they will go on a journey that will heal them both and lead to a strong bond, despite their differences.

“It occurred to him (Willie) that strength was quite different from toughness and that being vulnerable wasn’t quite the same as being weak. He looked up at Tom and leaned forward to his direction. “Dad”, he ventured. “Yes” answered Tom putting down his library book. “What is it?” “Dad,” repeated Will in a surprised tone. “I’m growing.”