Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Notes from a Compassion Workshop for "Trying Circumstances"

Editor's note:  A recent webinar "Compassionate Practices in Trying Circumstances" was offered by the nonprofit Charter for Compassion with author Jennifer Wilhoit.  The following are notes from the webinar shared with participants. The Daily Prism highlighted parts of the notes for ease of reading.

For the writing prompts, allow yourself 3 minutes to write your thoughts as they come to you.

Opening quote by Karen Armstrong: “Compassion is not an option. It's the key to our survival.”

Jennifer Wilhoit:

In trying circumstances, I have identified a threefold pattern for moving through it, back to well-being and wholeness...

  • Acknowledging Grief – what we fear, what we fear we’ll lose, what we’ve already lost
  • Embracing Compassion – for ourselves, for others
  • Being a Kind Action Practitioner – on behalf of others

The following are a writing practice and a nature-oriented practice for each of the areas: grief, compassion, kind action.


Writing Prompt: What have you lost? Or, What are you afraid of losing? And how does that feel?

* We let the non-judgmental page hold our honest, sometimes complex or conflicted feelings and experiences of life.

** This is a way to work with grief.

 Nature Mini Prompt: Take a minute to consider what type of area in nature feels good to you. Where outside do you feel nurtured when you feel afraid or sad?

Translate this to actual outdoor/nature practice: “Being Held By Nature”:

  • Identify a safe, comfortable, private, easily-accessible outdoor space.
  • Go and rest there (sit, walk, lie down) on a regular basis.
  • Notice what remains the same. Notice what changes from visit to visit.

* We let nature hold us during hard times.

** This is another soothing way to move through grief.


Writing Prompt: What things do you do to take really good care of others who are hurting? [list them.] Which of the things you listed are you willing to do for yourself? Who can you ask to help hold your difficult feelings? Are you willing to ask for help?

* When we recognize that we instinctively know how to nurture others, we can remember that we need to care for ourselves.

** This is a way to nurture compassion for ourselves.

Nature Mini Prompt: Demo with an image of a tree in the foreground by a lake with clouds and mountains in background...Here’s what I see in this nature image... What in this image do you connect with? What item – plant, animal who might inhabit this place – do you feel interested in? How are you different from this tree, water body? Appreciate this nature being that looks so different from you. Carrying this feeling of appreciation into your experiences with other humans, with whom can you imagine sitting in appreciation who might appear or behave or believe very different(ly) from you?

Translate this to actual outdoor/nature practice: “Commonalities With Nature”:

In nature, focus on what is different from you – for example, a tree.

  • Looking at the tree (or plant, animal, landscape), think about everything you have in common with it. Consider shape, size, color, texture, the need for air, how it moves or is still.
  • Appreciate this sameness with “other.”

* When we can find our sameness with a nonhuman being, it reminds us that we also have the potential to find common ground with other human beings.

** This is a way to nurture compassion for others.


Writing Prompt: How can you actually begin to act more kindly in and toward the world? Create as long a list as you can right now.

* When we recognize that we already have ideas for how to be kind, we are closer to actually generating more kindness in the world.

Nature, Mini Prompt: Photo of nature altar in downtown Seattle

Translate this to actual outdoor/nature: “Giving To Nature” (Make a nature altar.):

  • In an outdoor space, look at what covers the ground.
  • Find some objects (stones, fallen leaves, shells, seeds...or use the sand/dirt that IS the ground.).
  • Place the objects you find in a circle, or some other pleasing shape. If you’re in a very barren area (i.e. - desert), you can draw a circle in the dirt or sand. If you’re in a place that has been littered, you can use that trash as part of your altar design.

* When we offer beauty “for no reason” and with no expectation of “thank you” – we have moved into kind action.

** This is a way to spread goodness during troubling times.

Invitation to Action: How will you commit to one or more of these practices? Which one(s)? How often? Please write a short intention that expresses this commitment.

Closing quote by Ann Zwinger: “Dryness promotes the formation of flower buds...flowering is, after all, not an aesthetic contribution, but a survival mechanism.”

May you use this trying time to bloom into compassionate, peaceful action.

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