Compassion: The Bridge to Human Connection

At a special Kripalu event during our Month of Compassion in November, Rev. Irene Monroe, a lesbian activist and ordained minister, joined Kripalu CEO Dr. Barbara Vacarr for an evening of discussion and Q&A centered on the power of compassion.

You can watch the entire event below, and we're continuing the Q&A online! Please send us your questions and we'll share Irene's and Barbara's responses on this page.

Q: As compassion means, “to suffer with,” how do we allow ourselves to enter into that suffering, and to not get consumed by it so that we can still remain in a relationship of self-care and care for others?

Dr. Vacarr: “Suffering with” does not mean taking on the other  person’s pain. It means being present to the suffering, and knowing the other’s suffering from our own experience of suffering. “Presence with” allows us to be available to the other person and to ourselves. Losing ourselves in the suffering keeps us from actually being able to be with the person so that they don’t feel alone in it. The truth is, I experience this as a dance of moving from within my own embodied experience of suffering, to be a witness in which I can touch the feeling of it and witness it all at the same time, but not get lost in it. The minute we get lost in it, we have left ourselves, and we have left the other person alone in their suffering.

Q: How do you show compassion and at the same time stand up for differences?

Dr. Vacarr: The two are not incompatible by any means. It is only by authentically listening, with genuine compassion, that we can attempt to understand another’s viewpoint and values—and that is the best way to start when entering into a difficult interaction of any kind, whether around politics, family issues, or conflicts at work. Showing compassion does not have to entail agreeing with everything someone else believes or says. In the story I told at the event about my conversation with my doctor (you can find it at 45:20 in the video), we were able to connect through shared empathy and compassion, despite coming from completely opposite viewpoints. Bottom line: When it comes to standing up for what we believe in, we have a much greater chance of giving others a window into our world if we approach our differences from a place of compassion.  

Send us your questions on the topic of compassion.