To be prepared for the New Year I have begun to think about my "Year of___" for 2014. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, the "Year of__" is a concept originated by my dear friend Kim Gunn Stone in order to make her life more focused and full. Every year Kim selects a personal theme for her year and then proceeds to find every way she can to live and learn that theme: through study, through personal hands-on research, through the arts, through placing conscious focus on her chosen theme.
Last year was my "Year of Abundance" and it was an abundant year for me. I began 2013 doing a daily exercise to help me get comfortable with the feeling of living in financial abundance. In 2013, I was able to enjoy some of the rewards of an abundant life: to travel, to do some long-desired improvements to my home, I had abundant time for creative flow, and I was able to take abundant joy in my work. Best of all, now I rarely worry about lack. Lack used to be a close and constant companion of mine. I'd rather have the juicy, overflow, treasure-hunt life of 2013, thanks very much! I will continue to feel grateful for these and all the areas of abundance in my life.
2014 will be my "Year of Compassion". I have always thought of myself as a compassionate woman, so I'm not sure why the "Year of Compassion" feels right to me. Perhaps I will have more opportunities to show compassion this year than in previous years. Perhaps I will learn how to be compassionate with others and with self at the same time. This is one area that currently feels problematic for me: when and where do I switch from focus on another to focus on self-care?
Perhaps I will study the great teachers of human compassion: Jesus, Quan Yin, St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Theresa, and, in our own community, Reverend Larry Rice, the Salvation Army bell-ringers, any of those who support a cause to help others. There are so many among us today with personal missions of compassionate caring, each giving from their own skill-set, from their own area of genius. Perhaps the gift of being compassionate will come through me in my writing or in the classes I will teach? All I know now is that I am open to learning more about compassion.
Coincidentally, my cousin recently told me about "Just Listen" by Mark Goulston, a book about conscious listening (which is, in itself, a form of compassion). The author is a psychiatrist, a business consultant, and a hostage negotiation trainer. His techniques for listening well are based on his many years of clinical experience and on his study of the biology of the human brain. In "Just Listen" Goulston discusses the concept of mirror neurons, the brain cells that literally turn on our ability to empathize, to feel what another is feeling, be it joy, pain, laughter, or.... These cells fire in our brain as if we are having the same experience we are observing (mine must work very well to make me cry at movies, at sweet stories, even at tear-jerker commercials, ugh!).
Goulston quotes mirror neuron researcher, V.S. Ramachandran who calls them "Dalai Lama neurons, for they are dissolving the barrier between self and others." This part of our brains offers us the ability to step into another person's shoes. When we empathize, when we feel what another feels, and then, when we let that person know that we have a clue how they are feeling, when we acknowledge their discomfort, their unhappiness, or their joy, we become part of their compassionate care team. This helps the other person to feel heard, cared for, and a valued member of the human family. We all want and need this: to mirror the feelings of others and to have our own feelings mirrored back to us. According to Goulston, if we don't have others mirror back to us we can develop a mirror neuron deficiency! This being empathetic is big!