Sacred Communication–The Two Kinds of Compassion


In her Sacred Communication workshop series that has given at our Unitarian Universalist Church in Park Forest, Rev. Henrietta Byrd has given the main theme of the series:  in order to communicate in a sacred manner, which means to communicate in a way that recognizes the divine spark in others, you need to first be able to recognize that you yourself have that same divine spark, and therefore you need to communicate with yourself in a sacred manner as well.

Spiritual evolution, at least in the sense that is captured in the system called Spiral Dynamics, means expanding one’s “unit of concern” or compassion outward from ourselves, to our family members, to members of our own “tribe” (however it be defined ethnically, politically, or otherwise), to all of the members of the human race, and even to the other lifeforms on the planet.   But somewhere along the way, even those of us who strive everyday to be compassionate towards others need to receive some of that compassion for ourselves.

Now, compassion actually comes in two types, what one normally thinks of as compassion, which in Integral Theory is referred to as “yin” or “female” compassion, and “tough love”, which is “yang” or “male” compassion.   This is the kind of compassion that does not offer help directly, but essentially strengthens the other person’s own capacity to help themselves.    Democrats tend to focus on “yin” compassion, and Republicans on “yang” compassion, but in reality, both are required in life.   The real wisdom comes from knowing under what circumstances to apply the right type of compassion.

Given that there are two kinds of compassion towards others, it follows as a part of the Sacred Communication workshop, that we must treat ourselves with compassion, which means knowing when to give help to ourselves even at the cost of giving help to others, and when it is time to strengthen our ability to help ourselves through encouragement and self-discipline.   Everyone who has ridden in an airplane in the past few years knows that the safety instructions at the beginning of the flight include the instruction that, in the event of a cabin depressurization, oxygen masks will descend automatically, but that if you are travelling with a small child, you must put on your own mask first before assisting the child.   Well, wait a minute, how compassionate is that?   It’s actually very compassionate from a practical standpoint, because since you are caring for the child and you pass out from lack of oxygen, you are not going to be in a position to give any further assistance to the child, including putting that child’s oxygen mask on.

So there are sometimes when you will have to forego helping others because you need help yourself.   And in the same way, this is compassionate towards others because you cannot give of your own substance to others when you have no substance left to give.

Now, when you help others, you need to make sure you are giving the help that they want and need, and not just helping them from a disguised egoistic impulse to be perceived as a candidate for sainthood.   Don’t say “how can I help” with the emphasis on the word “I”–rather say “what do you need?” or “how would you like to be helped?”   If the person says “nothing at the moment”, accept that.   Don’t worry about your frustrated desire about not being able to give them anything; just by inquiring about their needs, you will already given something precious, namely, your time and attention.   For many people, that may be enough.   Once you have offered that help, then later if the situation gets worse and they really do need help, you will already made it easier for them to ask by helping them overcome their reticence about asking someone else for assistance.

But you need to have “tough love” for yourself as well.   If getting up a half-hour earlier than you normally do in order to do a regimen of stretching, yoga, and meditation, is something that will give you long lasting benefit, then you need to be able to give yourself a pep talk when you set the alarm for 6:30 rather than for 7:00 AM.   Because of the the nature of mental momentum, a part of you will prefer to remain in bed for that half an hour to get an additional dose of sleep, and you need to be able to use that “yang” compassion and say, “okay, time to get out of bed.”   But don’t say it as if you are scolding a child, rather use some positive self-talk, like “time to get up and get your body, mind and spirit ready for the day!”

These techniques, which Henrietta Byrd discussed in her Sacred Communication workshop, are helpful in creating a better relationship with yourself, a prerequisite for creating better relationships with others.   And in fact, the very fact that I went to the workshop at all shows the power of self-help.   You see, I’m working on a project that has been going on since the beginning of the year, and it culminates in an event that is happening in two weeks.   So since it is in the final phase of the project, it is necessarily a busy and, at times, stressful period.   I’ve had meetings during the day, evening, and on weekends to make sure the project completes successfully and this last Saturday was my first FREE DAY in WEEKS.   I wanted to do absolutely nothing all day but relax and unwind.   But at 7:30 AM when I woke up, I said, “I’ve got the whole day TO MYSELF.”  What a luxury, I thought.   Well then, if it is a luxury to have the whole day to myself, I should use it on something for myself.   I remembered that there was the Sacred Communication workshop at 9:00 AM, which I didn’t commit to going to at first because I wanted to see if I would have the energy to do so after a long and exhausting week.

But the very fact that the workshop was designed to be for myself and nobody else, made me suddenly want to go and do it, even if it meant that I had to leap out of bed, get ready and out the door in order to make it on time (which I did).   And because I did something special for myself on my first free day I’ve had in weeks, I have been in such a good mood all weekend.   Because doing something good for yourself like that means that underneath, you believe you are worthwhile enough that you deserve it.   And that knowledge has fueled even further my sense of self-worth, and has made me a better communicator.

So just remember, if you are going to help others, you are going to have to first learn how to help yourself.

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