The Conscious Classroom

Empathy or Compassion? Discovering an Orientation that Brings Energy & Joy

May 02, 2023 Amy Edelstein Episode 58
The Conscious Classroom
Empathy or Compassion? Discovering an Orientation that Brings Energy & Joy
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Amy Edelstein looks at the difference between empathy and compassion, exploring the elements of compassion that allow it to become a source of our own joy and upliftment. She also illuminates how detachment, universality, and self-care enable us to orient ourselves around compassion and fuel our own resilience and upliftment.  

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 Hello and welcome to the Conscious Classroom. My name is Amy Edelstein. I've been on hiatus for the last year for the most part, going into some in-depth learning journeys about the world of education and wellness, whole person wellness, and how to have deeper impact. In the work of inner strength education and in the work overall, that those of us who are interested in uplifting the minds and hearts of the next generation can do.  I am looking forward to sharing the insights from over 30 interviews with stakeholders from just a wide range of professional expertise.  There's a lot more to come. Today though, I wanted to talk about something that's been very much on my mind and heart, really thinking about what compassion is, what are the elements, qualities, environment, and factors that give rise to profound compassion.


When we think about some role models who exemplify just exuberant and unlimited compassion, where do they find their lightness of being in the midst of paying attention to and ministering to the suffering of the world? Where does that radiant? Irrepressible, smile of joy come from, and how can we understand compassion in our own orientation to education, to the those we teach that will give us that uplift in the midst of a lot of the pressures and dysfunction within the educational system.


Often times, which I think is helpful, a distinction is made between empathy and compassion. Empathy has the ability to feel the pain of another, to see another who is sad, and to feel that, to feel a pull towards that person. A feel of care, a feel of recognition of that. Hardship that another might be feeling.


Empathy is often the ability to take another's perspective to sit in their shoes and to look at the world through their eyes and through their heart.


The thing with empathy alone is that empathy doesn't call for a response. Now, we. We oftentimes, most times will feel that pull to respond to the suffering, to wish to alleviate it, to comfort, to care. But empathy itself is defined, often defined as the boundaries where you're simply feeling the pain of another.


And in our work with youth who may be challenged or suffering or others, Who may be challenged of suffering, or a planet that is challenged in suffering in so many ways. Simply feeling the pain of the other can be overwhelming. It can lead to a sense of discouragement, depression, powerlessness, exhaustion burden and that state of mind and heart doesn't carry the uplift to bring great joy into the world. That state of mind and heart doesn't allow us to access profound freedom and the resources and wellspring that come from that. Undefinable sense of goodness.  Compassion is a preferred orientation  to empathy on its own.


It includes that ability to recognize the suffering of another and to care for the suffering of another. But compassion is. Proactive, it's positive. It's that action or that urge to do something to alleviate suffering, to wish for the happiness and joy of others to care that another's suffering be alleviated to want others to feel happiness, to be flourishing, to thrive.


Compassion is also slightly different than love. It contains or is contained by those elements of profound affection and care. Compassion, though. Really stands more as warmhearted concern is that care for another love is that sense of no boundary, no separation. Unity, identity and compassion has that slightly different orientation of warmhearted concern.


May all beings large and small, near and far close and distant friend and enemy, find the causes of happiness and be free from the causes of suffering.


So that deep concern. For harmony, for wellbeing, for joy, for love is an inherent part of compassion.


 That sense of concern of desire for to uplift another to help them realize joy in their lives carries with it. That sense of non-separation that sense that just as I want to feel happiness and be relieved of suffering, so too, all other beings want to feel happiness and be relieved from suffering.


Now, not all other beings or people. Our creatures recognize what brings true joy and what brings the relief from suffering. So we want to wish for others the wise and insightful recognition of what brings true happiness, what brings the true relief of suffering. What doesn't do, carrying out our lives in ways that don't cause harm or suffering to others, which will bring the causes of joy and happiness into our lives.


Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol or self harm. Might bring an individual, some temporary numbing of suffering. Those aren't the causes that give rise to true wellbeing. So when we're wishing for others the causes of happiness and true happiness in their lives, we want them to be free of those tendencies.


To numb or avoid or choose methods of denial and distancing from the reality of life. We want people to wake up to a way of being, to seeing the world and themselves in a way that brings strength, goodness, wholeness, healing, connection. Confidence and integrity of being. So we're recognizing first, we're desiring that other individuals find ways to truly be happy and thrive in ways that are wholesome and healthy and nourishing, and we recognize that they're non different from us.


When we embrace others as ourselves, we recognize that everyone's wish to be happy and to be safe, and to not suffer is the same as our own. In a fundamental way, the good actions that will give rise to an easy and stress free Relationship to life for us are the same action, actions, and goodness and kindness that will give rise to the qualities of happy life for others.


So when we recognize that desire to be free from suffering is the same in different beings. Then it takes away that separation that can lead to arrogance, that can lead to subtle disrespect of the people we're working with. That can lead to the do-gooder mentality. It can lead to that sense of belittling.


We're pity. Nobody wants to be on the other end of that. Our students don't want that. Our colleagues don't want that. Our students don't want that. Our colleagues don't want that. Even if we work in environments with individuals who've experienced a lot of trauma, live in under-resourced homes in schools we still want to find that sense of respect. Just as we respect ourselves. We respect another's innate life force. We respect them as their own people. We respect their dignity. Even amidst an environment that may, through the circumstances erode that human dignity, and this is where it's very subtle and very difficult, but when we find ourselves burnt out and burdened.


We want to look to see if our relationship to those we're working with has become one of pity or empathy and not one of recognition of oneself and the other recognition of the human predicament of the other. Recognition that we all share the same human predicament, but we may be on different parts of the spectrum of human experience so we want to check ourselves in our orientation.


We always want to be respecting the sense of agency and capacity for choice within another. That element of choice, even for those students who have been experienced so much trauma, and you can see in them that they are struggling with the effects of P T S D. Their brains are in a constant state of survival, fight, flight, or freeze, can see in their eyes that their capacity, To engage with the world is blocked, that they're locked in their suffering because of what they've experienced and witnessed, and it's going to take time and love and nurturance to help them unwind that still, even in the midst of that, we respect that underneath all of that they also have the power of agency and choice over their own lives.


We never want to take that away from another because then we'll be separating ourselves. So even when we have to intervene, if a family member or child colleague or friend has fallen into addiction, They need help. They're not thinking clearly, and you may need to be forceful and set strong guardrails, but ultimately it is going to be somewhere in them, their own choice to respond to the possibility to change their trajectory, and it's always holding out that possibility for their choice to respond in us.


That we keep their dignity intact. We keep their agency intact. We keep our sense of respect for the preciousness of the life force and the miracle and mystery of how our own lives unfold.


So when you're feeling that burden of overwhelm, notice if you somehow fallen into a belief that others are so overcome with the burden of their life circumstance, that they no longer have any agency because within that life consciousness, Is that sense of choice to respond. It may even seem involuntary, but when we look subtly, there is always that way to take the steps to open to the possibility to be, to move out of suffering.


We also want to remain detached, not taking credit for the outcome. There are so many factors that go into healing, redemption, and change of direction. When we see young people, we're their mentor and our relationship is warm and consistent, and we know that we're making a difference in their lives, we want to value that.


We want to appreciate ourselves for that. And yet, We also want to make room for this many different factors that we can't see or know about that are all contributing to the that young person's ability to respond positively to our mentorship, to our care, to our reaching out.


And that keeps us in that, in the reality and in that sense of mystery, that there are so many things that go into one person's possibility to respond positively and another person's choice not to respond to our love and care. It's not our fault. And at the same time just as it's not our fault, we also.


Can't take credit. We can value what we do. We can appreciate the extension of our heart and care, our intelligence. Yet ultimately, what makes one child respond and another not respond, it's not always within things. Factors that we can see or know or measure.


So always leaving room for other things to come into play that we can't see. It keeps us, again, from taking credit, removing agency. It keeps us aligned with the mystery. Of how we, what makes us transform and grow and when, what helps heal extreme trauma and it keeps us connected non separate. So we're all in the mystery together.


The good thing about compassion is that we can actually train our minds and ourselves. And even our brains to become more compassionate, to recognize limitations that we impose on our sense of compassion, which are not necessary to allow ourselves to be open. To the possibility that our compassion can expand without overwhelming us, that when we discover that current of care and recognition of sameness connection with others, then our sense of care for the wellbeing, desire for happiness uplifts us.


It brings a wellspring of positivity and energy and joy into our own experience so we can train ourselves to recognize this, we can train ourselves to cultivate this and there are many different forms of love and kindness practices that cultivate this sense of compassion.



So in this, let's do a short exercise, and in this simply allow yourself to rest in a memory or moment where you felt cared for, nurtured, whether you were nurturing yourself, whether it's a memory of being a child. Of skinning your knee and having somebody there caring for you, cuddling you, tending to you a loved one or a spouse,


bring to mind that moment of nurturance, that moment of being cared for, and allow that sense to really fill your being, remembering what it was like.


And if that moment had some ambivalence to it, let that be in the background and just pull forward the qualities of nurturance, the qualities of being cared for, the qualities of love.


And as you rest in that, shift your attention somewhat to a sense of acceptance of your own tenderness. Your own humanity, your own preciousness, your own extraordinary possibility.


Recognize the whole range of human emotions being easy with the fact that we have capacity. For the whole range of human emotion, the good and the not so good. Sometimes those emotions are triggered by factors beyond our control, and in from that experience of nurturance, nurture, and accept. Your human vulnerability, nurture and accept your humanity.


And as you're feeling that sense of acceptance and recognition, extend that. To all humanity and even to all beings, to the life force as it manifests in so many different forms.


Send that sense of acceptance, nurturance to that delicate life force as it shines through all different beings, and allow yourself to experience awe and wonder gratitude and appreciation.


Allowing those qualities to nurture you, heal you, strengthen you, and release what's no longer needed. Release what's been toxic release harms and hurts.


Imagine those flying away, lifting up out of your body like butterflies, like this whole collection of beautiful, delicate winged beings. Lifting and suffering out of you, and as you watch them fly away,


you feel the joy and delight, that they're light winged happiness. They're fluttery, bumpy lines of flight, dancing, and playing. In the sky and finally disappearing from your line of sight.


And as we close this practice, recognize the cultivating deep compassion is an act of joy, an act of love. An act of care and an act of commitment and appreciate your own intention.


So as we bring this, Episode of the Conscious Classroom to a close, recognize that focusing on our own, understanding, wellbeing, strength, resilience, and healing is an essential part of a conscious classroom. A conscious life and a quality of learning, educating and being that goes from strength to strength and goes from goodness to greatness.


I hope this helps you in your reflection on postures of compassion, ways to develop your own compassion, ways to work differently with your students so that you are always filled with joy and happiness, resilience and energy, and you're feeling connected to others and to the mystery of how our lives unfold.


It's great to be back. I am excited to share with you so many insights moving forward. Thank you for all of the work. You good work you bring into the world, and I'll see you next time.