The Science of Compassion #1000Speak

Image courtesy of Kitt O'Malley via www.kittomalley.com

Image courtesy of Kitt O’Malley via http://www.kittomalley.com

What was said to the rose that made it open was said to me here in my chest.

– Jalal al-Din Rumi, “What Was Told, That”

While driving home from the hospital today, a female caller phoned my favorite radio station pleading for prayer on behalf of her four-year-old nephew, Adam. “He has been in the hospital the last few days and just had surgery,” her voice trembled, “he’s not doing so well.” As she spoke, I felt a blanket of warmth within my chest, and then a dull sting behind my eyes before tears began to run down my cheeks. I do not know this woman or her nephew, nor do I know the specifics of their current situation. Yet there I was, crying for them. And the question that came to mind was: Why?

Contrary to my positing in “Compassion is a Muscle”, we are hard-wired for compassion (I know. I checked.). We have brain cells, called mirror neurons, which help us to empathize and socialize with others. We have the vagus nerve system, which fires with compassionate response in moments of trauma and trouble. And then there’s our intelligence: our hearts.

At the HeartMath Research Institute, in Boulder Creek, California, scientists are studying the heart-brain connection. Director of Research, Rollin McCraty, says this:

Over the past 18 years, our research center has investigated heart and brain interactions: how the heart and the brain communicate with each other and how that affects consciousness in our perceptions. One of the things we identified in our research was the state we now call coherence. And what we found was that when we’re feeling positive emotions, like we’re really appreciating the sunset, or really feeling love or compassion or care for someone, that the heart beats a very different message. The heart generates, by far, the largest rhythmic electromagnetic field produced in the body and what we’ve now found is that if we look at the spectrum analysis of the magnetic field created by the heart, that emotional information is actually encoded and modulating into those fields. So, by learning to shift our emotions, that’s changing the information we’re encoding into the magnetic field radiated by the heart and that can impact those around us. We are fundamentally and deeply interconnected with each other and the planet itself and what we do individually really does count; it matters.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed. It’s easy to think: I’m just one person. What can I possibly do? But the slivers of hope, kindness, affection, compassion, and love matter. You: your voice, your pen, your generosity, your intentionality, your heart matter.

The scaffolding of our humanity is cooperation and democracy. We see it from insects to primates. We see it in the flight of the starlings and the acrobatics of schools of fish. We see it in communities of chimpanzees and herds of deer.  And, of course, we see it in human beings:

A solitary human being actually is an impossibility. You come into being because a community, of two persons, happened… The truth of who we are is that we are because we belong.

– Desmond Tutu

Oftentimes, the world tells us that we are different and shows us those differences. It tells us to stand out, be better, be smarter, be richer. It tells us we’ll be happy when we have more, not when we are more. It tells us that wealth, power and status matter and we, as a society, honor those who have such things. In so doing, we create separation and competition instead of fostering proximity and compassion. In so doing, the heart suffers.

We are all connected. All of us. I share my DNA with my sister, but I also share thousands of genes with fish and insects and trees and birds. They are my relatives and they are yours. So, if we believe in the science of science and the science of heart, then harming another, harming nature, is, in fact, harming our family.

Coleman Barks, poet and author of “The Essential Rumi” asks us what if: what if “the friend, the beloved, was everyone.”

I leave you by asking the same.

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  One thought on “The Science of Compassion #1000Speak

  1. February 20, 2015 at 8:32 pm

    Beautiful and inspiring post, Dani. 🙂

    • May 1, 2015 at 9:21 am

      Thank you, Georgette. That means the world coming from you.

  2. February 20, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    “We are all connected.” That is the number one thing I have been reminded of while reading all of these #1000Speak posts today (and last night). Beautiful post!

    • May 1, 2015 at 9:25 am

      Thank you, Jackie. I was hoping it would be deeper, land more precisely. But I think what is at its heart is also in the heart of each reader who read.

  3. TheMomCafe.com
    February 20, 2015 at 9:24 pm

    Ah yes, there is such a intricate design of all creation- it is rather miraculous, isn’t it? I love this scientific perspective, and I too believe we were created to unite and connect with one another.

    Have you ever seen the movie “Into the Wild”? I think that is what it’s called- it’s an old movie, but I recently saw it with a youth from church who told me about it. It’s an amazing movie, ultimately proving that when we isolate ourselves from society- from other human beings… we will surely wilt and die. If you haven’t seen it, get it at your library. It’s quite powerful.

    • May 1, 2015 at 9:26 am

      I did see it, Chris. It was well done and certainly made me think, as you always do ❤

  4. Lisa @ The Meaning of Me
    February 20, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    This is absolutely fascinating, Dani. It’s awesome in the truest and most literal senseof the word. And from that perspective it is clear -to me at least – that there is something Divine present and at work in all of creation.
    Beautiful.

    • May 1, 2015 at 9:30 am

      Thank you for stopping by and reading, Lisa. It was actually a comment you made on “Compassion is a Muscle” that prompted me to delve into this side of compassion. So, thank you for sharing what was in your heart, as it allowed me to refine what was in mine.

  5. February 20, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    This is so beautiful and hopeful, Dani. I knew I could count on you to peel everything away to find promise and light in a world of too much suffering. You matter.

    • May 1, 2015 at 9:31 am

      Oh, Sammy. Thank you for the reminder.

      Thank. you.

  6. February 21, 2015 at 3:05 am

    Such a sensitive combination of the personal and the scientific here Dani.

    • May 1, 2015 at 9:32 am

      Thanks for dropping by. Geoff. I’m grateful, as always.

  7. February 21, 2015 at 3:30 am

    I too believe we were created to unite and connect with one another. We just need to practice it more.

    Thank you for sharing! 🙂

    It was a lovely read 🙂

    • May 1, 2015 at 9:33 am

      Yes, we certainly do.

      Thank you for your kindness.

      🙂 Dani

  8. February 21, 2015 at 3:36 am

    I’m always pleased when science confirms things that we know instinctively – but I still shake my head in amazement that such things really need scientific proof!

    • May 1, 2015 at 9:35 am

      Actually, I needed a little convincing (not much), but I’m glad you didn’t, Catherine.

      Some things should just be a given, shouldn’t they??

  9. February 21, 2015 at 6:03 am

    A well thought out and superbly expressed essay. It gives us much to ponder and hopefully to act. Thanks so much.

    • May 1, 2015 at 9:39 am

      Thank you for your kind words, Robin. I hope we all ponder such things.

      I hope.

  10. February 21, 2015 at 7:20 am

    This is fantastic, Dani. I just read a #1000Speak post where the woman gave a ride to someone on the side of the street in bad weather. At first she was horrified that she picked up a stranger and then she realized that she picked up a neighbor. Such an important and profound distinction. You’ve taken it a step further for me in pointing out that we share our DNA with every living thing. You’re so right about the messages we receive daily about our differences instead of our connections. I choose connections. Now, I just need to smoke what I’m selling and stop cursing at other drivers. 😉 Much love to you Dani!

    • February 21, 2015 at 2:46 pm

      omg Karen, you made me titter-giggle-snort with your “smoke what I am selling” comment, as I thought of the blue air fiercely swirling around my head sometimes when I am in heavy traffic surrounded by idiots ERRRR I mean wonderful “compassion-opportunities”.

      I just giggled again, right now. thanks for that…I think Ima be on and off with the giggle fits over that all day! ❤

      • February 22, 2015 at 8:45 am

        Haha! I usually only make my kids snort (fart jokes, most often) so I’m honored!

      • May 1, 2015 at 9:44 am

        SO you ❤

    • May 1, 2015 at 9:43 am

      I just loved this, Karen. I wrote something similar this morning…that it is one thing to type the words and quite another the Live those words in every breath. I guess it would be no fun if we all were perfect (however we define “perfect, that is), but I am grateful that each inhale and exhale is an opportunity for good, compassion and love.

      It’s easy to forget that.
      You’d think that the simple (yet complex) act of breathing would be a great reminder, wouldn’t you?? ❤

  11. February 21, 2015 at 9:37 am

    Excellent! I would love to know more about the heart-brain connection! Lovely insight about the scientific basis of compassion!

    • May 1, 2015 at 9:47 am

      Thank you, Roshni. Actually, Heart Math’s website, https://www.heartmath.org/, has a wealth of resources.

      I’m sure you’ll find more than you ever thought possible there.

      With blessings,
      Dani

  12. Kristi Campbell - findingninee
    February 21, 2015 at 11:05 pm

    Yes yes yes we ARE more. And I love the reminder that we share genes with birds and fish. So much. We are so so much more alike than different. All of us.

    • May 1, 2015 at 9:49 am

      Thank you for stopping by, Kristi. There really is such fascinating information available. I never knew because I never thought to ask the questions. Now I know better. And I’m totally amazed by what science is confirming.

      The heart is Incredible!!

  13. February 22, 2015 at 10:31 pm

    Dani, thanks for speaking about compassion. It is such an important emotion and something I think we tap into more deeply as we face our own struggles in life. I’ve found recently in my life that compassion must sometimes have rules to go along with it in order to sustain our own balance but I definitely agree that the compassion connection is a powerful thing!

    • May 1, 2015 at 9:52 am

      I think, as with anything, we need to have healthy boundaries in place to protect ourselves and others. I’m certainly not advocating showing compassion to an extent that is unsafe or unwise, I just think it’s important to know that we were created for an interactive and interwoven experience. Our heart is the guide in that and THAT is amazing.

      Blessings to you,
      Dani

  14. Joy
    February 23, 2015 at 6:39 am

    Since this movement started, even though I know writing is a good contribution to speaking about compassion but still i thought I AM JUST ONE PERSON- then I saw this-

    It’s easy to get overwhelmed. It’s easy to think: I’m just one person. What can I possibly do? But the slivers of hope, kindness, affection, compassion, and love matter. You: your voice, your pen, your generosity, your intentionality, your heart matter.”

    Thank you! You’ve just motivated me more!

    • May 1, 2015 at 9:56 am

      I’m so touched by your comment, Joy. I know how easy it is to look around at all that’s happening in the world and feel like the smallest grain of sand on the planet. But then I’m reminded: even the smallest grain of sand can become a pearl.

      You matter, dear one.
      We all do!

  15. February 23, 2015 at 9:08 am

    This was so good to read. I love learning about the science behind compassion, kindness and the like. Thank you for sharing that. And for the Desmond Tutu quote – I love it! Thanks for being part of #1000Speak.

    • May 1, 2015 at 10:02 am

      Thank you for taking the time to stop by, Yvonne. It’s a blessing to be involved in such a movement. Thank you for your part in bringing it to pass.

      With blessings,
      Dani

  16. February 23, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    Thank you, Dani. You’ve gone the extra mile with the science of the heart. I find that fascinating and compelling. Then you bring it close and personal, leading us to the opportunity for living into the concept. The song and video are deeply moving.

    “We are all connected. All of us. ”
    And I am very grateful for this connection. And for your heart.

    • May 1, 2015 at 10:04 am

      Your words mean so much, Jane. Thank you for sharing them here, in a way only you could.

  17. February 23, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Wonderful.. And I love this line: ‘The scaffolding of our humanity is cooperation and democracy.’

    • May 1, 2015 at 10:05 am

      Thank you for reading, Sara.

      Much heart to you,
      Dani

  18. February 23, 2015 at 10:31 pm

    I loved reading about the science of the heart–beautiful. I love this passage, “Oftentimes, the world tells us that we are different and shows us those differences. It tells us to stand out, be better, be smarter, be richer. It tells us we’ll be happy when we have more, not when we are more. It tells us that wealth, power and status matter and we, as a society, honor those who have such things. In so doing, we create separation and competition instead of fostering proximity and compassion. In so doing, the heart suffers.”

    I believe this is my favorite #1000Speak blog post. Thank you for sharing, Dani.

    Peace.
    Ellie x

    • May 1, 2015 at 10:07 am

      Ellie, with the amount of 1000Speak posts out there, I am truly touched this is your favorite. Thank you for stopping by and sharing a piece of yourself here.

      Under the same sky,
      Dani

  19. February 26, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    So beautiful and uplifting. Thank you for sharing such insight…

    • May 1, 2015 at 10:08 am

      I’m so glad you liked it, Daphne. Had you thought that compassion was rooted in our DNA before reading??

  20. March 6, 2015 at 12:40 am

    I adore this post Dani, especially the bit about being more in order to move towards happiness instead of having more. Inspirational. xx

    • May 1, 2015 at 10:09 am

      Thank you, Lisa. I’m so glad you liked it and found a bit to tuck away for later.

      With heart,
      Dani

  21. March 18, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    That study at the Heart Math Research Institute sounds fascinating. Deepak Chopra also talks a lot about the mind/body connection and it’s impact on the heart, brain and the interaction with compassion. Beautifully written. xo

  22. May 1, 2015 at 10:13 am

    He does, Claudia. I need to look into his writing more. Is there a specific book or article of his you’d recommend??

    With heart,
    Dani

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