It feels like a very long, steep hill. With COVID-19, racism, a divided nation, and denominational upheaval, the anxiety and stress many are experiencing are very real. So how are you staying healthy, grounded, and compassionate in this challenging season?
This summer, I revisited a book that I have found extremely valuable. Gail Straub’s “The Rhythm of Compassion” addresses one of the central spiritual questions of our time: Can we heal ourselves and society simultaneously? The core premise of the book is that the health of the human psyche and the health of the world are inextricably connected, and we cannot truly heal one without healing the other. So, I am wondering, what is your rhythm of compassion? How are you doing amid the stress and trauma of our world these days?
I have a couple of go-to strategies that are part of how my personality responds under stress. One is to put more energy into caring for others. If I am not doing well, I sometimes reach out and do something for someone else. Now this is great, and I love being caring and compassionate, but if I ignore what is going on with me, this becomes a delay tactic and could be an unhealthy expression of care. Under stress, I also tend to start listening to my harsh inner critic and tell myself to get over it…toughen up…get to work…get it done…or even “you’re not good enough, Jody.” If I am being held hostage by my core personality type in stressful, traumatic times, I settle into thinking that something is wrong with me—that others don’t seem to be struggling, that I am unique (and not in a good way!) so I can withdraw and isolate.
I tell you all this because the leading research on compassion shows that there is no distinction between the elements of self-compassion and compassion for others. Kristin Neff’s research show that there are three components to both types of compassion:
1. Kindness vs. Judgment
2. Common Humanity vs. Isolation
3. Mindfulness vs. Over-Identification
To find out how compassionate you are based on this model, go here.
If we are called to be leaders of the gospel imperatives—growing in love of God and neighbor, reaching new people, and healing a broken world—we need to start by looking at our own rhythm of compassion and ensure that we are bringing mindfulness and prayerful examen to our inner life. I cannot be compassionate to others and the world’s needs if I am not compassionate with myself. So how self-compassionate are you?
I invite you to look at your own rhythm of compassion. Here are three options for doing so:
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church