In the movie The Sacred Journey of the Heart, presenters talk about Heartmath Institute, a research organization. One of the Institutes studies give the details about how humans receive information to the heart first, and then to the brain. This is interesting because, I may be off a little bit on my numbers, but the brain processes about 40 or 50 bits of information a second. The eyes receive about 10 million bits, and the whole body including the heart 15 to 20 million bits of information. The heart receives information from our electromagnetic field of the body then passes the information to the brain. This is shifting our view of the heart/brain relationship. In fact, there is a new science, which is the neuroscience of the heart or Neurocardiology.
Today we are breaking all the glass ceilings of science. We are exploring, as a species, the understanding that we are first spiritual beings, and second human. That doesn’t mean that the human part is less important. If you step in front of a bus, you’ll discover both parts of that statement at once. As integrated spiritual/human beings it is our heart that connects our spirit and body.
Compassion is one of the primary feelings of the heart. Krtista Tippit in her Ted.com talk about compassion says, compassion has received a really bad rap over the last 20 or 30 years. We act squeamish around the word compassion. It’s losing power as a word with real meaning.
During the 60s, when civil rights came to the forefront, the watchword was tolerance. We needed to be tolerant. I think it’s time to put that word into second place and compassion in the first place. Why? Because if you have compassion the likelihood is you don’t need tolerance. Compassion is of the heart while tolerance is of the head.
The fundamental parts of compassion are kindness, tenderness and empathy. Again, in our society, we face the clichés surrounding these words. As an action, kindness is one of the hallmarks of compassion, and tenderness the essential feeling. Where tolerance is more conceptual and difficult to see. We can put a face to compassion.
We can see it at work right here in our community (St. Louis, MO). David Henry from the Center for Spiritual Living and his group are feeding and clothing the homeless and veterans in the downtown area every Thursday night. Volunteers from around the city come to help. What people find is that it transforms them.
This is another hallmark of compassion. It’s about transforming suffering. Yet, those who practice compassion find it is transforming in their life as well. Compassion; that’s love in action. Instead of the nightly news which will always show us what is wrong in the world; It appeals to our reptilian brain which is always on the lookout for danger. We need to show the world what compassion looks like. We will never end suffering through wars.
Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen tells a story that her grandfather told her that in the beginning of creation something happen in which the universe was shattered into countless pieces and shards. inside every aspect of creation and that the highest human calling is to look for this light, to point at it when we see it, to gather it up and in so doing repair the universe.
Story telling is powerful, it speaks a language that is deeper than the conscious mind can comprehend. Dr. Remen’s doing so much in terms of training the world of medicine in compassion. Medicine moved from doctors at people’s bedsides listening compassionately. to doctors being mechanics losing their compassion and empathy. I can only imagine seeing that much suffering day after day having profound effects such as shutting off emotion. And unless they bring a depth of spirituality to this suffering that it becomes overwhelming.
When we talk about compassion we need to see the face of it. For example, Bob Chapman is CEO of a billion dollar St. Louis company that demonstrates a people centric view of business. During the 2008 economic melt down his company lost 30% of their business. Chapman talked to his employees and suggested that everyone take 4 weeks off, at different times, so that they would not have to lay-off any of the more than one thousand employees. He said (I paraphrase) better for all of us to suffer a little than for some to suffer greatly. This is evidence of an emphatic style of leadership.
In Leader’s Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, Simon Sinek gives an example of a flyer serving in Afghanistan, James Bravo, who risked his life to save others. He wasn’t looking for credit, his name in lights, or recognition. He says it is “empathy,” a connection between himself and others.
Compassion also looks like this Jean Vanier, founded the L’Arche communities, which you can now find all of the world community, These are communities centered around life with people with mental disabilities – mostly Down’s syndrome. Vanier says that his work, like his beloved, late friend Mother Teresa is never about changing the world; it’s in the first instance about changing ourselves. He says that what they do with his community is not a solution. Compassion is rarely a solution, but it is always a sign of a deeper reality; of deeper human possibilities.
Jean father was brigadier general in the French army and during the invasion from Germany in 1940s his family fled to Canada. After the war ended 1945 the family moved to Switzerland as his father became ambassador to Switzerland from Canada. Jean and his mother were tasked with going out to concentration camps and help the suffering individuals reintegrate themselves into daily living. He says in his one of his books, On Becoming Human that it was a transformative experience because the faces he saw were filled with fear, anxiety and pain. The suffering was huge.
In 1950 he decided to go study philosophy and theology in college. He was searching for answers to why this it happened. In 1964 he took a break from his academic career and he went to back to France and a friend of his, a priest, asked him come with along as he visited a small town asylum. There he said the faces of the individuals in these small institutions looked the same as those in the camps.
Many of the people were orphans from the war that were put into these homes. All they ever saw with the four walls of their room, and their food. Jean was moved to buy a home in that this little town. And he invited anyone who wanted to come live in the house. By 1971 he had 50 or 60 people living in that little house in small communities. Today there are over 1800 communities in 79 countries. This was a transformative experience for him and those living in the homes.
He realized the answer he was seeking was not in books. It wasn’t in the education. It was in the transformative experiences he had.
These are only two examples of compassionate action. There are many more in the ranks of corporate America, the military, strangers on a street feeding and helping others. It is our connection to each other that will save the planet, not our technology, our economy.
If separation is the source of our inner pain, then connection is surely the remedy!