Horne: Bring compassion to your interactions

I was standing in line at Mount Boucherie Secondary School last week waiting my turn to report in as an evacuee due to the Smith Creek fire.

My first impression as I had walked into the building was how connected everyone was.

The volunteers smiled at you as you entered and guided you gently in as they determined which colour card to give you according to your needs.

The room was abuzz with activity and talking, as strangers sitting next to each other where engaged in lively discussion, faces animated and arms moving as stories were told.

My sister and I both went to a refreshment counter and helped ourselves to drinks and muffins that were offered with yet another smile by the volunteer manning that station. I felt downright welcomed, not to mention warmly embraced by her outward show of compassion.

And on it went, from line up to reporting table, smile after smile, people reaching out to one another, sharing their experience, giving support and receiving support from one another.

You felt comforted by it and, I dare to say, uplifted by the generosity of spirit that was present.

Why does a crisis bring this out in people?

A willingness to join together and extend to one another in a way that everyday routine seems to neglect as we busily go about the business of getting on with life.

Genuine compassion is not something you can easily define, but you certainly do feel it when it is present.

Compassion involves the capacity to be attentive to the experience of others, to wish the best for others, and to sense what will truly serve others.

Ironically, in a time when we hear the phrase “compassion fatigue” with increasing frequency, if truly practiced, compassion does not have to lead to fatigue, but can actually become a wellspring of resilience as we allow our natural impulse to care for another to become a source of nourishment rather than depletion.

Developing our capacity for compassion makes it possible for us to help others in a more skillful and effective way.

And compassion helps us as well by reducing physiological stress and promoting physical and emotional well-being.

For 40 years, Dr. Cynda Rushton has been exploring ways to bring compassion into the medical system.

She has developed a model called G.R.A.C.E. for bringing compassion into your interactions with others. This G.R.A.C.E. model has five elements:

Gather your attention: Pause, breathe in, give yourself time to get grounded.

Invite yourself to be present and embodied by sensing into a place of stability in your body.

You can focus your attention on the breath, for example, or on a neutral part of the body, like the soles of your feet or your hands as they rest on each other.

You can also bring your attention to a phrase or an object.

You can use this moment of gathering your attention to interrupt your assumptions and expectations and to allow yourself to relax and be present.

Recall your intention: Remember what your life is really about, that is to act with integrity and respect the integrity in all those whom you encounter.

Remember that your intention is to help others and serve others and to open your heart to the world. This “touch-in” can happen in a moment.

Your motivation keeps you on track, morally grounded, and connected to your highest values.

Attune by first checking in with yourself then whomever you are interacting with: First notice what’s going on in your own mind and body.

Then, sense into the experience of whom you are with; sense into what the other person is saying, especially emotional cues—voice tone, body language. Sense without judgment.

This is an active process of inquiry, first involving yourself, then the other person.

Open a space in which the encounter can unfold, in which you are present for whatever may arise, in yourself and in the other person.

How you notice the other person, how you acknowledge the other person, how the other person notices you and acknowledges you all constitute a kind of mutual exchange.

The richer you make this mutual exchange, the more there is the capacity for unfolding.

Consider what will really serve the other person by being truly present for this one and letting insights arise: As the encounter with the other person unfolds, notice what the other person might be offering in this moment.

What are you sensing, seeing, learning? Ask yourself, what will really serve here? Draw on your expertise, knowledge, and experience, and at the same time, be open to seeing things in a fresh way.

This is a diagnostic step, and as well, the insights you have may fall outside of a predictable category. Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly.

Engage, enact ethically: Then end the interaction and allow for emergence of the next step appropriate to each situation.

If there is something to learn from these crisis situations where such natural joining and compassion seems to be a demonstration of what we are capable of, perhaps we could each individually bring this caring into our daily lives to offer a stranger a smile or a thoughtful moment of our time.

In our health care environments, it is now particularly needed.

By the radiant looks on the faces of those emergency centre volunteers, it must be well worth it.


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