This course was created by Sounds True. We are pleased to offer this training in our library.
Skill Level Beginner
- [Narrator] This is an audio course. No need to watch, just listen. (tranquil music) - [Female] Sounds True presents the Science of Compassion, a modern approach for cultivating empathy, love, and connection with health psychologist and Stanford University lecturer, Kelly McGonigal. Our program continues with Session 2, the Biology of Compassion with Kelly McGonigal. - [Kelly] How would you describe what compassion feels like? Psychologists at Northeastern University asked people this as part of a study. And what people reported is they thought that compassion was calm and pleasant. That as an emotion, it was similar to feeling relaxed and content and peaceful. That's what people thought compassion was. But, then they actually induced compassion by having people listen to stories from the NPR podcast StoryCorps. In one of the stories, a woman describes the moment she found out that her sister had been killed by a stranger who pushed her in front of an oncoming train at a New York City subway station. The woman describes the shock of getting the news and her dread of having to tell her family what happened. She describes putting it off even just by one more minute, one more minute, because she knew that she was giving her parents the last few moments of peace that they might have. And she describes how her most prized possession now, years later is an answering machine cassette tape that has the last message from her sister on it. And at the end of the message, her sister says, "Okay, bye. I love you. Talk to you later, bye." And how it feels like a miracle to her to have that tape and to listen to it over and over, to hear her sister's voice. The other story that participants listened to was a man and his wife talking about the husband's experience with Alzheimer's disease, how the disease had changed him. The husband worries a little bit about the future and what will happen to him, and to her as the disease progresses. He apologizes to his wife for becoming a burden, and his wife says this to him, "I don't know if you even remember this, but once we were listening to a book on tape and it talked about the greatest thing you can do, if you love somebody, was hope, that you would be the one that was left, and that you would be the one that could care for your lover. You're not alone, and I'm honored that I'm the one that can care for you. I always will." And her husband says, "You always have, thank you." Listening to these stories, triggered compassion in the participants, just as the researchers expected they would. But when they were asked to describe what compassion actually felt like, they described a much more mixed state than they had predicted. It included sadness and gratitude at the same time. They felt upset and also love. And the more compassion they reported, the less calm they felt. There's an idealized notion of what compassion is, and that compassion is some kind of peaceful, pleasant feeling, when the reality of compassion is much more complex. Compassion is a state that contains opposites. It's a kind of paradox. When we are in a state of compassion, we feel competing emotions, things we don't think we could feel at the same time, like sadness and gratitude. And our bodies experience seemingly incompatible states. We might feel grounded and centered, and yet also energized or even anxious. I find that we can better understand our experience of compassion, everything that we feel in the presence of suffering by exploring this paradox, and starting with what happens in your brain and your body, when you feel what you would call compassion. Because scientists have gone beyond just asking people what they feel, to peering into their brains when they're experiencing compassion, to looking at what happens in their nervous systems, to what's happening in their physical pounding hearts, how compassion affects breathing, even immune function. In this session, we'll explore what happens in your body when you experience compassion, what does compassion look like in your brain, and how does what's happening in your brain and your body change as compassion unfolds from that first awareness of suffering to your desire and willingness to respond. And most importantly, we'll consider how understanding the biology of compassion can help you engage with suffering.