Compassion Meditation and Caregivers
Empathy is the faculty to resonate with others feelings. If someone comes with a big smile, you start smiling. If someone suffers, you feel some of the suffering. And it turns out, if you study the brain, that empathy with suffering for instance, if you really empathize with someone who is suffering, the area that registers suffering in the brain is activated. In the same way and the same area as the person who is suffering. So it is real suffering.
… We got the idea that there is no such thing as compassion fatigue, only empathy fatigue. Standalone, empathy alone, leads to burnout. But if you have empathy within the vast field of loving-kindness and compassion, then you have a buffer. Compassion prevents the negative effect of feeling the other’s suffering. I think it has tremendous potential for caregivers to train more in arousing that loving-kindness.
Ricard is a scientist turned Buddhist monk, who continues to work with brain researchers in several countries. It turns out Ricard’s intuition is correct: compassion is something that we can learn to be good at. A 2008 study from the University of Wisconsin used advanced imaging techniques to show that we can “train” ourselves to be compassionate:
Cultivating compassion and kindness through meditation affects brain regions that can make a person more empathetic to other peoples’ mental states, say researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. … The research suggests that individuals — from children who may engage in bullying to people prone to recurring depression — and society in general could benefit from such meditative practices … The findings support Davidson and Lutz’s working assumption that through training, people can develop skills that promote happiness and compassion. “People are not just stuck at their respective set points,” he says. “We can take advantage of our brain’s plasticity and train it to enhance these qualities.”