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Staying Open-Hearted in a Compassion-Fatigued World

It’s hard right now to even talk about anything Covid-related without the fear of triggering someone or getting triggered. The marathon nature of this ordeal coupled with the politicization has made this time

gut-wrenching. Throw a little social media in there, where the loudest and most radical voices reign supreme, and it becomes even more unbearable.

But have we lost our compassion? A friend mentioned the term “compassion fatigue” to me the other day and I was struck by this concept that is thrown around in passing, but not talked about much in detail, at least not in a way that speaks of solution.

Oxford defines compassion fatigue as “indifference to charitable appeals on behalf of those who are suffering, experienced as a result of the frequency or number of such appeals”. It results in diminished ability to empathize or feel compassion for others.

It’s no wonder why people are feeling despondent and depressed. It hurts when it feels like people don’t care and I’d argue that it hurts just as much not to care. I don’t think we’ve lost our compassion but I do think it’s time to make a big effort to get back in touch with it.

Two main contributing factors of compassion fatigue are burnout and polarization. So I offer two possible solutions:

Meditation is quality refueling time that helps prevent burnout and replenish energy. A daily practice as well as regular practice with community is a necessity to keep me balanced and sane these days. Research proves that meditation lowers stress levels, decreases depression and anxiety, helps us sleep and makes us more tolerant and less reactive. There are so many ways to meditate and even 11 minutes a day can really make a difference. Think consistency over quantity. I’ve got some free resources on my website and there are always guided meditations on YouTube and the Insight Timer App as well. If you need help with resources, I’m here to help you find a routine that works for you.

In terms of the exhausting finger-pointing that is happening these days, I turn to a Buddhist practice that Pema Chodron calls “just like me”. It’s a practice of looking for the similarities instead of the differences. So if I’m finding myself stewing over somebody else’s point-of-view, I try to look for common ground instead of harboring resentment over our differences. I might say to myself: just like me, this person is upset at the current situation that is beyond all of our control. Just like me, they probably really want things to just go back to “normal” again. Just like me, everybody wants their family and their kids to stay healthy and well. We may have totally different views, but this “just like me” practice helps us keep our hearts open in the face of tiring and polarizing times. It may take a bit more effort these days to stay lifted and compassionate but it’s well worth it. Please let me know if I can support you in any way.

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