Mindfulness in Enfield

Is Compassion and Kindness the same thing?

One subject that we Mindfulness practitioners are often asked about is Compassion and Kindness. It is something that is often associated with spirituality and mindful living, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject.

Compassion is best defined as having concern and sympathy for the suffering of others. It is very different from being kind, it requires a level of self awareness that enables you to see beyond your own pain. Kindness on the other hand is the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate.

The challenge for those of us who are in a “caring” role or that are practising Buddhists is that people expectation us to always be kind, caring and compassionate. Whilst that is our aspiration, it isn’t always possible to step out of the ordinary human habit to be kind and compassionate at all times, we are just ordinary beings after all.

Compassion requires Wisdom

“Idiot compassion” is a term that the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to describe the type of compassion that is absent of wisdom. Another great Tibetian Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron puts it this way:

Idiot compassion refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering.

Compassion is giving someone what they need not what they want.

I felt compelled to write this short post because after working in a school for a while, it suddenly hit me what we are doing wrong, it is idiot compassion. We are not preparing children for the real world, we are not giving them what they need, we are giving them what they want and this is harmful in the long term and certainly not preparing them for real life.

In today’s society we chase all the pleasures and luxuries, avoiding any discomfort and hardship, even though life is surely a mixture of good, bad and ugly. We spend much of our lives running away from the unavoidable, instead of preparing ourselves for real life, one that is constantly changing and full of the unexpected. Life is just moments of joy with a mix of disaster!

As parents and teachers, should we not be giving our children the tools to deal with all that life will throw at them? Doesn’t real compassion mean we have to sometimes let our children and loved ones experience pain? How else will they be able to live a healthy life if they are never given the space to fail, to pick themselves up and become resilient adults?

Pema Chodron goes on to say that often we use compassion in a way that is harmful to others.

“Instead of offering a friend medicine, bitter though it may be when ingested, you feed them more poison at the very least, you don’t take it away from them”

What Pema Chodron is illustrating here is when we don’t say the truth in case we hurt someone, we don’t offer them what they really need and so we are not helping, we are just making it worse. This she says is not compassion, it is selfishness as we are more concerned about our own feelings than our friends. Real compassion requires courage, it is not about being a doormat, sometimes compassion requires you to stand for what is right. Look at people such as Gandhi, Martin Luther Kind and Nelson Mandela, they are examples of compassion in action.

Compassion and Mindfulness - The Stable Mind

Buddhism is often called the middle way, we learn to live with what is at any given time as best we can because it is the only moment that truly exists. As Mindfulness has it’s roots in Buddhism, we could say that it is also the practice of living “the middle way”. In other words, we live moment to moment, we don’t chase distractions such as short term pleasures and we seek happiness through a stable mind.

A stable mind is one that is not easily stirred by external events, it is a mind that even if thrown out of balance for a while, it comes back to a peaceful state relatively quickly. A stable mind doesn’t get lost in stories, it let’s them go without a struggle.

Someone with a stable mind knows when to say no, when to walk away and when a hard truth needs to be said. A really compassionate person doesn’t mind losing a friend in order to help them because real compassion isn’t about how we feel, it’s about what the other person needs.

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How to be in the present moment

People refer to Mindfulness as being in the moment and although that sounds so easy, it's actually very difficult to do. Most of us don't really understand what that means because we usually spend our time going from being in the past to going into the future. We may have experienced moments of being totally in the present, perhaps when we are in nature or when we are doing something that totally engrosses us. But most of the time we are going from doing one thing to the next, rarely stopping to be present for whatever is happening at the time. Our mind is always on the go.

At our Mindfulness courses we teach people how to begin to pay attention. We start by making a conscious decision to stop for a moment and really be present. It takes effort to start with but with practice it can become very therapeutic and certainly life changing.

Mindfulness Daily Activity

When we look at Eastern culture we may find it intriguing or even mystical to see how they have a whole ritual around making a cup of tea. Or when we watch people in China slowly perform Tai Chi in the park, we may think its something for them, not us. In monastic life, it is in the mundane everyday tasks that people learn to be mindful. This is the training, this is where you will find the way to stay in the moment.

One of the tasks we give during our courses is to choose a daily activity and to just do that one thing, to remove all distractions, background noise and other activities. For some people that can be very difficult to do. We maybe in the habit of watching TV while we are having our morning tea or coffee, therefore not really being present. When we switch off all distraction, we start to notice just how busy our mind is. We use the daily activity to get to know our mind and how to bring it back to the moment, to the making a tea, brushing our teeth and we do this in a gentle and kind way. 

When we start to experience being in the now and how the mind is quiet, we realise that this is when we are relaxed, at peace and stress free. This can also be a challenge for some, in my experience when working with cancer patients, the present moment may not be easy for them. However, to live with cancer and other trauma, we have to get out of the past and future thinking. This is where Mindfulness becomes life changing, where we learn that the past and future are only alive in our thoughts. 

To better understand, I am sharing the thoughts of cancer survivors from one of my courses. Their words bring it to life.

Brushing Teeth Mindfully

"I look at the bristles on the toothbrush, notice how toothpaste is spread on the toothbrush. How thick is it? What colour is it? I watch the water as it covers the toothpaste, listen to the way the water trickles off the toothbrush. How do the bristles feel against my teeth and tongue? How does toothpaste taste? How does it feel against my teeth?

Notice the sensation of bristles against my teeth. Notice temperature of water as I rinse the toothpaste out. Feel the sensation of water as I rinse my mouth full of water out. How does that feel?

Feel texture of material of the towel, is it cotton? against my skin as I dry my face. Notice how my teeth feel now" - Gavin Cancer Survivor

Gavin was kind enough to share his second daily mindful activity.

Mindfully Making Tea

Mindful Tea Drinking

"Notice the silence in the kitchen before I fill the kettle up. Recognise the burst of water as it leaves the tap and enters the water filter. Aware of noise of water as it goes into the filter. Feel the texture of the tea bag between my fingers as I extract if from the cold, silver, cylindrical container and place it in the white, cool china mug.

Be aware of the bright light and low faint hum of the fridge as the door opens and the cold air wafts against my face. Notice the resistance of the fridge door as I pull it towards me. I extract the milk from the fridge, feeling the sensation of the cold carton against my hand.

Notice the sound and flow of water as I empty the water filter into the kettle. Beware of the silence as I wait for the kettle to boil, perhaps gazing through the patio doors and observing the peacefulness, stillness in colours outside in the garden. Notice change in the sound of the kettle as it comes to the boil.

As I pour the boiling water into the mug I notice the sound being made and how the colour of the water darkens as the tea brews in the freshly boiled water. Again I notice how the colour of the water in the mug changes milk is added to taste. 

Finally, I notice how the brown sugar is made up of so many tiny granules which move silently in the sugar bowl as I carefully measure the required amount into the mug". 

Mindful Coffee Making

Mindfulness Washing Hands

"I go to the cupboard and pick up the metal coffee container, I feel the cool of the metal against my hand. I enjoy the smell of coffee when the canister is opened. I take a mug and the cafetiere from the other cupboard. I measure a spoon and a bit extra of the coffee and put it into the cafetiere. It makes a soft sound as it hits the bottom. I fill the plastic kettle at the sink, being aware of the weight of the appliance in my hand. Hear the squeak of the turning tap and the swoosh of the water in the kettle. 

I hear the click of the kettle when switched on and the sound of the water as it heats up. Turn off the kettle before it boils and pick up and fill the cafetiere. I place the plunger on the top and while waiting I go to the fridge and grasp the plastic carton of milk. I hear the whisper of the door opening and shutting. 

I pour the cold milk into the mug and slowly push the cafetiere plunger, feeling resistance as I push it down. Slowly pour the coffee on top of the milk and sit down to enjoy the first coffee of the day" - Christine Cancer survivor.

Why we practice Mindfulness?

Through making this conscious effort to pay attention you can see just how different the whole experience was for both Gavin and Christine. They felt sensations, heard sounds, smelt the coffee and tea, they were truly present for the moment.

In our daily life, we rarely stop to pay attention, in our courses we discuss "auto-pilot" which is how we live our life on most days. It is when we stop doing for a while and really be connected to our senses, that we start to feel alive. 

Scientifically the more we develop the capacity to stay in the moment, the less our mind becomes stressed and full of anxiety. This is why science is now showing how Mindfulness is changing our neurological pathway and improving mental well being. 

Mindfulness is a way of life, it takes time and effort to develop a sense of presence and awareness. Start simply by taking one daily activity and be present for it. When you notice your mind straying into the past or future, direct your attention back to your activity. Practice this every day and slowly you will notice how different life feels.

Join one of our courses to learn how to bring Mindfulness into your life.