Last week I went to the Cheltenham Literature festival. It is a great event and the atmosphere is fantastic; I love being able to immerse myself in other peoples knowledge and ideas. Also that week I attended a counselling workshop on difference and mental health...
As I sat in the room towards the end of my training day the word that was in my head was 'compassion', it had been there all week. I pondered the idea that compassion is all we need as 'all we need is love' by The Beatles danced through my head.
As a counsellor I talk a lot about self- compassion, being kind to yourself and not listening to the bullying voice in your head. Self-care is high on my list on social media as well as when talking with my clients. The effects of childhood emotional neglect and trauma can make us into workaholics and people pleasers and these 'ways of being' are punishing and brutal on our own mental health. So for me, holding compassion for yourself is very necessary and we all need reminding often, I know I do.
Then there is compassion for others and in this I mean other humans and our animal friends. Sometimes, if we have difficulty maintaining connections with people due to the adverse conditions we grew up in, the connection to our pets and loved animals is even more important; they gave us unconditional love that we found difficult to get elsewhere. We feel a connection with them.
Compassion and connection are basic human needs. Just imagine (seems John Lennon is haunting me in this post) how compassion and connection for and with our fellow humans could change how we think about each other, how it could fix disagreements between people, bring together communities even countries and stop war. Perhaps it is just a dream but in the difficult times we live in, I have to believe there is something we can do to make us feel better, more whole, less anxious and at peace. As other writers like Brene Brown are writing about love being the antidote to our 'collective pain' I feel there may be a sea change coming, at least I hope so.
Theory says that we may feel and act as individuals but in reality we cannot exist happily alone; we need each other for our own wellbeing. The rat experiment, by Dr Bruce Alexander, showed that rats kept in communities opted to not drink from drug laced water bottles yet the isolated rats chose to overdose. As the article says:
Alexander taught us that humans, not just rats, need to be part of a community, encouraged to relate and experience the support of others. This is about as basic a psychological truth as exists.
Surely community is the intersection between compassion and connection?
When I see people in the counselling room I hear a need for connection, we crave for compassion. It can be easy to lose your community through moving with work or for family reasons. We can lose loved ones, not just though death but through divorce, arguments, illness, even when our kids leave home, no matter how much we want to see them grow up, it is still a loss to let them leave. Life is full of changes, in fact it is continual change. Sometimes we ride the crest of the wave of change but at other times we need a little help to make sense of things and come to terms with a new or different time in our life. Sometimes we know we need to make changes but need support through the change. Sometimes the change happens in the process of counselling.
Perhaps you have lost connection with the world and feel like there's nowhere to turn? Whatever support you need, if you can make the connection with the right counsellor for you, the relationship can support you with whatever you are struggling with. Compassion and connection are the tools of our trade...
How will you connect with others today? How will you show yourself some compassion this weekend?