Happy Valentine's Day!
Compassion is at the core of being a helping professional. What is at the core of compassion? According to both scientific research and traditional spiritual teachings, it's love.
In a study exploring how patients experience receiving sympathy, empathy and compassion, the researchers found that “compassion enhanced…empathy while adding distinct features of being motivated by love"(Sinclair, 2017).
We’ve known that compassion grows from love for thousands of years. Buddha gave teachings known as Lojong or “Training the Mind” in which the highest levels of compassion are generated in 8 steps. Some of the early steps in this practice are cultivating 3 types of love - affectionate love, cherishing love, and wishing love.
Affectionate love is the same as liking. It’s a warm feeling and a sense that another person is pleasant.
On the basis of affectionate love, we develop cherishing love, which holds the other person’s happiness and freedom to be very important.
If we cherish someone and then recognize their suffering, we’ll automatically develop wishing love, the strong wish that they be released from their suffering. Wishing love and compassion are two sides of the same coin.
Love is the foundation of being a compassionate professional. Not syrupy love, but grounded love, such as the type developed in these 3 steps. We're often advised to keep a professional distance. We can both love those under our care and maintaining clinical boundaries that protect us from over involvement and burnout. Indeed, love keeps us focused on the other person's needs instead of our own desire to be smart and useful. In this frame of mind, we'll be motivated to maintain boundaries that make our work sustainable. It starts with simply liking and enjoying our clients. We naturally value people we like and feel them to be important. And if they are important to us and we'll wish for them to be happy and free from problems. We can always hold this wish in our heart, even if our capacity to help in practical ways is limited.
About the writer
Teale Niles is a post-bacc Speech & Hearing Sciences student and a Kadampa Buddhist. She is dedicated to promoting religious diversity and inclusion in healthcare.
Sinclair, S., Beamer, K., Hack, T. F., McClement, S., Raffin Bouchal, S., Chochinov, H. M., & Hagen, N. A. (2017). Sympathy, empathy, and compassion: A grounded theory study of palliative care patients' understandings, experiences, and preferences. Palliative medicine, 31(5), 437–447. https://doi.org/10.1177/02692163166