“Compassion is a verb.”

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Thich Nhat Hanh once said that “Compassion is a verb”.  A verb is a word used to describe an action. Compassion is defined on Dictionary.com as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune”; a feeling…a noun.  Although there is a clear paradox in these two definitions, Hanh’s statement is truly powerful. He is implying that compassion is not a passive state of being…it’s not just a feeling.  The state of compassion points us to a need for action.

The world is currently in a sad shape, so surrounded are we by hatred, fear, war, and adversity.  Countries are bombing one another over the very things we should be coming together over.  God, no matter what name you call Him/Her/It by, should be a unifying force between us, and yet our need to be right continuously throws up senseless barriers.  Natural disasters are wiping out countries that are living in absolute squalor, yet we have building materials stocking shelves in every Home Depot across the country, sitting unused.  Children across the world are starving, and here we are with a Publix on every single corner.  I could go on and on and on.    We have all experienced that moment, watching the news, sick to our stomach at the turmoil we are seeing on the screen, wondering how people can do these things to one another, to the planet, etc.  We watch helplessly on, feeling sympathy for others in their suffering and wishing there was something we could do about it.  However, can you imagine what kind of a world we could create if, together, we put some action behind these feelings?

This post is not meant to be depressing, nor is it meant to be a rant about all of the things we are doing wrong as a society.  It is simply meant to raise awareness.  How are YOU showing up each day?  Are you putting action behind your compassion?  It’s so easy to get caught up in the feeling of being one, small voice, but we are each so much bigger than that if we simply TRY to be heard.  One small voice becomes two small voices, and then three and four, and eventually hundreds of voices getting louder and louder and louder, until perhaps the day comes where our voices boom louder even than the poverty, louder than the hunger, louder than the bombs ravaging countries.  However, if we allow ourselves to fall back into this helplessness we may feel, we are relinquishing any power that we could potentially have to positively impact our future and the lives of those around us.

Each of us will leave our impact differently.  Maybe we become the voice for those without the resources to speak out, maybe we raise money for a cause we are passionate about, or maybe we fly abroad to volunteer in impoverished countries.  Maybe our role in the process is as simple as lending an ear to someone who needs to be listened to, or offering a smile and a hug to someone who is going through a tough time.  All of these acts, no matter how big or small, matter.  YOU matter!  Your voice matters.  Your decision to take action rather than submit to the world as it is, matters.  SO. VERY. MUCH.

As we approach a new week, I urge each and every one of you to use each day within it to take some form of action.  Where does your compassion draw you?  What cause, circumstance, person, or charity needs your one, small voice, so that theirs can grow loud enough to be heard?  Start simple.  Write a blog, send a love letter, share a smile, buy the guy in line behind you a cup of coffee without telling him.  Every act of compassion ignites a spark in its recipient and any others lucky enough to watch it happen.  Be that spark.  We are all one family, all wanting the same things from this life.  Safety, security, happiness, triumph, peace, and love.  You, no matter who you are, have the opportunity to help provide these things to people all across the board, whether you know it or not.  Your one, simple smile could be just the thing that ignites the spark in another, who then goes off to change the world.  You never know how powerful you are, but know that you are far more powerful than you think.

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The Power of Active Listening

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How many times have you had the same conversation over and over and over again?  There’s that one person who constantly feels the need to tell you their story, their hardships, their accomplishments, or what they said to the Comcast guy when he was late for their appointment….even though you have heard this story SO MANY TIMES!  Whether it be with your spouse, children, coworkers, bosses, or maybe the guy at the gas station, we often find ourselves stuck in these cycles of endless conversation.  It’s easy in these situations to get frustrated and cast our aggravations on the other person.  We ask things like, “Why don’t they get it?  We keep having this conversation!”, or “How many times is he going to tell me this?  He’s like a broken record!”   Think about one of those situations in your own life.  Get a clear picture of it in your head.  Imagine the words being spoken, see the other persons face.  Start to feel the reaction in your body.  Is your jaw clenching?  Maybe your shoulders are beginning to creep up towards your ears?  Are you crossing your arms?  Do you feel tired, bored, or drained?

Now, let’s switch gears for a minute.  Think of a time when YOU have been the one feeling like you have to say the same thing over and over again.  Maybe it’s reminding your kids to put their clothes in the hamper, nagging your spouse to help around the house without being asked, telling the story of that time you scored the game-winning touchdown…..in high school…..25 years ago.  Yep…we ALL do it.  Now try to pay attention to where it may be coming from.  Dig deep here.  Why do you tell this story?  How does it make you feel?  What’s your role in the story?  Are you the victim, hero, martyr?  What is it that makes you constantly go here?  Likely, you will come to the conclusion that, no matter how many times you are repeating yourself, you don’t feel as if you are being heard, appreciated or validated in whatever it is you are trying to express.

There is a big difference between listening and ACTIVELY listening.    We live in an age where it is not only easy, but NORMAL, to be bombarded by distractions everywhere we turn.  The smartphone pings one of several tones…you race to discover if it was an email, text, Facebook, Instagram, or voicemail notification.  (Actually, it was WordPress letting you know I just posted another RADICAL blog post, but I digress).  The point is, there are so many reasons NOT to focus on the person right in front of us, that why would we feel like we are being heard?  The sad thing here is that, as a society, we are losing focus on how important communication is, and in losing this focus, we are beginning to lack understanding of just how powerful listening can be.

When we create a space where someone feels truly listened to, the possibilities are endless.  When we hold a place for honest expression, stories begin to lose importance, because they no longer define the person telling them.  The story teller no longer feels the need to identify so strongly with these memories, habits, or routines which may have been holding them back.  Feeling truly heard, we are able to move on to better stories.  Imagine this…think back on a conflict in your life where you felt like your voice was not being heard.  Maybe you are fighting with your significant other, and it feels as though everything you say is being turned around.  Finally, you bow out of the conversation defeated, realizing that you are getting nowhere.  You feel a sense of hopelessness, perhaps some anxiety and frustration.  You call a friend, or your mom, or you sit down next to your dog, and they LISTEN!  THEY TRULY LISTEN!  Like, let you have the floor, freak the BEEP out, say everything and anything you need to say without interjecting, forming opinions, or offering unsolicited advice, cry, scream, punch a pillow…whatever it is, without judgment.  How do you feel?  A rush of relief?  A little silly for getting so heated?  Validation?  Whatever you are feeling, I can almost guarantee you when your significant other walks back into the room, the thing you were discussing so feverishly will have lost a lot of importance, because you no longer feel that burning desire to be heard.

Sometimes we just need to be heard, without being labeled as right or wrong.  It’s that simple.

I’m not suggesting that we need to enable our friends and loved ones who are stuck in these patterns, but am merely offering that perhaps if you truly listen to what they are saying, you might hear something entirely different underneath.    Are there those who are married to their stories?  Unfortunately yes, there are, but you don’t have to engage with those people.  However, if you are experiencing these cycles with people you love, than chances are there is just something not being said, or something not being heard.  Listen up, and you may be surprised at what you find.  The coolest part about this, is the more that we begin to incorporate it in our lives, the less we will find ourselves caught in these cyclical conversations, because people will feel as though we heard them the first time.

So, how can you bring this into your life?  Take the next 24 hours and observe your habits in conversation.  Notice if you are fidgeting, thinking about other things, fixated on an ant climbing up the wall behind the other persons head (I know…I’ve done it too).  Are you able to make eye contact?  Can you keep your thoughts directed on what the other person is saying?  Just observe yourself without judgement and begin to acknowledge how you might incorporate more positive interaction with those around you, and make THAT your practice for the following 24 hours.  Make a diligent effort to be a better listener and see what happens.  Take notes…write down any differences you notice in how others interact with you.  Share your results in the comments section below.  I’m excited to see if anything changes for you.

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