Christina Sarich, Staff Writer
“Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” – Plato
According to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we are all meant to be happy. In his words, “Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this.” The trick to true happiness may be surprising though – it turns out it has more to do with how we treat others than any concern we may have about our own selves. His statements are supported by recent studies of brain activity by numerous researchers from Princeton to Berkeley.
The Dalai Lama also tells us that unless we are gravely ill or lacking the basics in life, there is no reason to feel unhappy, unless our minds trick us into thinking we are. In fact, when the body is content, we pretty much ignore it altogether. It is only when we are ill that we realize we have taken one of the greatest happinesses – health – for granted. Our minds are the big stumbling block when it comes to happiness because they recorded every single event – no matter how small, no matter how seemingly inconsequential. In his wise way, the Dalai Lama suggests that compassion just might be the way we overcome the incessant ramblings of our own minds – the worry, the fear, the anxiety, the greed, the hate, and the longing that make us unhappy.
“The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.” – John Green
Compassion can be defined as concern for others. It doesn’t eliminate the self, but it makes the self a part of the whole instead of the separate, isolated, suffering being ruled by ego alone. As Bob Marley so eloquently and simply put it, when we reach out to others, we can feel ‘one love, one heart.’ Literally, compassion means ‘to suffer together.’ It sounds almost futile, but the irony is that this togetherness is what brings us out of our funk! Compassion may, in fact, serve as a greater evolutionary impetus to compel us to act. How can we make changes if we don’t feel someone else’s pain as our own?
In one example provided by a recent experiment conducted by psychologist Jack Nitschke at the University of Wisconsin found that when mothers looked at pictures of their babies, they not only reported feeling more compassionate love than when they saw other babies; they also verified unique activity in a region of their brains associated with positive emotions. Nitschke’s finding suggests that this region of the brain is attuned to the first objects of our compassion—our offspring. It is from here that it can grow to include others, also.
In another study conducted by Joshua Greene and Jonathan Cohen of Princeton University, it was found that when subjects contemplated harm being done to others, a similar network of regions in their brains lit up. Our children are obvious recipients of our compassion, but when complete strangers—victims of violence—two very different subjects, are united by the similar neurological reactions they provoke, it helps us to understand how important compassion truly is. This consistency strongly suggests that compassion isn’t simply a fickle or irrational emotion, but rather an innate human response embedded into the folds of our brains.
Usually when we face obstacles we tend to shrink. We become so small that our focus becomes relegated to just our needs, our wants, our lack or problem. The interesting thing is that at any one moment, someone else is feeling the same pains, for a different reason, and the only way to truly get the mind out of its own little, contracted space is to help someone else with their problems. It is a way to instantly widen our view and give the very thing we need for ourselves – love, empathy, concern, understanding. Ironically, it is when we give these things away, that our own problems seem to lessen, and in giving what we desire for ourselves, we create a feedback loop which expertly, perfectly, gives us back exactly what we gave.
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” – Albert Einstein
About the Author
Christina Sarich is a musician, yogi, humanitarian and freelance writer who channels many hours of studying Lao Tzu, Paramahansa Yogananda, Rob Brezny, Miles Davis, and Tom Robbins into interesting tidbits to help you Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.
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