Why Compassion?

I am 5 years old.

I’m sitting at the edge of the garden.

I look at the path leading to the train station.

I’m leaving, nothing holds me back here.

Nobody loves Me.

How is it possible that my parents don’t love me?

I must have been adopted, that’s it. I was adopted.

A feeling of freedom runs through me like a breath.

I feel good, I’ll be fine.

But where will I go?

No one is waiting for me anywhere…

At 18 months my mother finds me a new nanny after my 2 years older sister asked her why I didn’t move all day.

At 15, I scarify myself and write FUCK and LOVE on my nails with black polish. I spend hours in the shower and life seems as exciting as a highway exit.

At 16, I leave for 9 months to the United States, without really knowing why. But this is the first time I feel that my choices matter, that I can change something in my life. I face my fear and walk in the footsteps of my older sister. After getting lost in Dallas, I meet a generous family who fosters me.

I read my first books on Buddhism, Meditation and Compassion, found at random in a second-hand book shop (Gavin Harrison or The Teaching of the Buddha). In fact, this is the first time I read because I want to.

I practice meditation in my room, and I discover an intense happiness that I have never felt before.

Only one problem: “Why be happy if the people around me are sad? “

This question stays with me. It hinders me in my practice of meditation that is not assiduous. I continue to meditate sporadically without real discipline, for the joy that it gives me, I do not seek happiness.

Compassion is on my professional path a few years later.

I am in Paris, in a small training room of the House of Chemistry, at the edge of “les Invalides”. I only came to this place once, a few years before to see a scientific poster from Professor Antoine, with whom I worked on anxiety related to pain.

Professor Paul Gilbert begins to speak to the 15 of us gathered in the room. He speaks in English. There’s no translation.

He talks about Compassion and his “Compassion Focused Therapy”. I’m under his spell. I absolutely want to know more about it. A few months later in Derby in England I learn to talk to that part of me that is calm, peaceful and able to offer me Compassion.

I then ask this part of me, “How can I be happy when the people around me are not? “

I hear a simple word: “joy”.

This part of me, an ideal form of compassion is now there for me if I need it.

This very simple, and so obvious answer – “joy” – will guide me to the greatest philosophers (like Spinoza and his Ethics of joy), neuropsychologists (like Antonio Damasio who gave neuropsychological arguments to Spinoza’s perspective) or psychologists (like Darcia Narvez who describes social joy as a primary need of the human being and a necessary anchor for ethical development, Erich Fromm who guides us toward a faith anchored in love) or spiritual guides (like Thích Nhất Hạnh or Thomas Merton, who put positive emotions at the heart of their practices).

This meeting of Joy and Compassion is today the subject of my Psychology Research PhD.

I am 38 years old and nobody has ever talked to me about my childhood depressions.

For all those who will one day feel the breath of one of the guardians of Azkaban*, I share my story today. Hoping that one day we can cross the emotional desert of depression without shame.

Chronic depression isn’t something we heal from, we learn to live with it: like a sportsman who starts the sport again after an injury. Meditation taught me to stabilize my mind. It offered me, with the wisdom of Buddhist writings, a new perspective on the world.

The thoughts that suck my energy are no longer channels that enclose me in the fog but the song of crows I have learned to love.

Compassion is about looking at the reality of suffering without judgment allowing us to say, yes me too, yes someone of my family, yes my friend, we suffer, it is so. Compassion is approaching and staying present to this suffering so that it can be released.

It is to be together again and rediscover a shared joy, beyond the borders of stigmatization.

We see the stars only in obscurity
Ancient travelers were waiting till dusk to find their path
Technology gives us more informations
But we still have to walk through darkness
To find the meaning of life

Damasio, A. (2003) Spinoza was right. Joy and sadness, the brain of emotions, Paris, Odile Jacob, 346

Fromm, E. (1967) The Art of Love, 158; 20 cm. Original title: The art of loving. Ed. Desclée de Brouwer.

Gilbert, P. (2010) Compassion Focused Therapy, Routledge, London.

Harrison, G. (1994) In the lap of the Buddha, Shambabla, Boston.

Merton, T. (1961) The Paths of Joy, (Thoughts in Solitude), Lib. Plon, Paris.

Narvaez, D. (2014). Neurobiology and the development of human morality: Evolution, culture and wisdom. New York: W.W. Norton.

Spinoza, B. (2005) Ethics, Paris, Editions de l’Éclat, 1990, PUF.

The Teaching of Buddha (1986), Buddhist Foundation, Japan.

Thích Nhất Hạnh (2014) Taking care of the inner child, Belfond.

*In the universe of Harry Potter, the guardians of Azkaban, the famous wizard prison, are creatures of darkness considered the most abject in the world. Dementors feed on human joy, and at the same time provoke despair and sadness on anyone nearby. They are also able to suck the soul of a person, leaving their victim in an irreversible vegetative state.

Isabelle Leboeuf is a Psychologist, Psychotherapist

In her therapy practice she integrates Hypnosis, Cognitive Behavioral Therapies and Compassion-Focused Therapies. As she continues to work toward her PhD in Psychology, she is studying the links between Compassion and Positive Social Emotions from the point of view of both experimental psychopathology and clinical applications.

Translated with the kind help of Ari Cowan

Ari Cowan is the Director General of the International Center for Compassionate Organizations (ICCO). He focuses on the continuing development of the International Center and coordinating its overall day-to-day operations. He is also the key author of the theoretical principles of the International Center as well as a participant in developing, delivering, and evaluating the International Center’s programs, publications, partnerships, and initiatives. We are waiting for his new book, “Compassion and the alchemy of being”

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