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Mindful : October 2017
Psychologist Paul Ekman, who has studied human emotion for 45 years, says there are three types of empathy we need to be fluent in, which are inher- ent but influenced by our cultural and personal experiences. They can be nurtured and developed. Cognitive empathy is when we’re able to identify how another person feels and consider what they may be thinking. Emotional empathy is when we phys- ically feel what another feels. And compassion- ate empathy is when we not only grasp a person’s A trio of empathy predicament and feel their feelings, but we’re moved to help in some way. Ekman says that you can’t experience compas- sionate empathy without first developing your cog ni- tive and emotional empathy. Yet as Dutch primatolo- gist Frans de Waal wrote, “ Empathy is ... a hardwired response that we fine tune and elaborate upon in the course of our lives.” And, says therapist and MBSR trainer Margaret Cullen, it can start as easily as taking the time to remem- ber “the common humanity of the other person.” Compassion is often likened to a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows, so the theory goes. And research has suggested that meditation could accelerate this process. In one study conducted at the Univer- sity of Colorado, Boulder, when volunteers listened to biographies of suffering people and then did a guided compassion meditation, they reported significantly higher levels of compassion than those who didn’t meditate. Furthermore, even though the meditators didn’t increase the amount of the donations they made to those suffering, their giving also didn’t drop off as quickly, a troublesome effect for charities known as “donor fatigue.” This ties into research that indicates compassion seems to flow more eas- ily when people don’t feel they have to give too much. Growing compassion “Compassion collapse” can occur when people feel overwhelmed by the needs of others, as in the case of mass suffering. Mindfulness may help. “Compassion cultivation techniques have been shown to increase positive emo- tions and social support, reduce negative distress at human suffering, and reduce people’s fears of feeling compassion for others,” C. Daryl Cameron, an assistant professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State Univer- sity, wrote for the Greater Good Science Center. “[It] may increase their ability to savor and sus- tain compassion for many victims. But training people in how to accept their internal experiences may be a necessary first step, to defuse the fears that hinder compassion from emerg- ing in the first place,” he concludes. According to Stanford Uni- versity health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, compas- sion shows in our body language. Physical motions, such as head nodding, gen- tle eye contact, smiling, and leaning in toward the other person during conversation all communicate compas- sionate listening. This, in turn, makes the speaker feel seen and heard, and opens the door for greater connection. Not surprisingly, folded The kindness posture arms, crossed legs, check- ing your phone, and inter- rupting the speaker with your own agenda have the opposite effect. “We don’t need to wait for compassion to sponta- neously arise,” McGonigal says. “ When we have the intention to experience and offer compassion, we can make choices—even small ones, like how we make eye contact—that can lead both [parties] to the authentic experience of compassion.” 32 mindful October 2017 how to live a mindful life