This course was created by Sounds True. We are pleased to offer this training in our library.
Skill Level Beginner
- [Announcer] This is an audio course, no need to watch, just listen. Welcome to the latest addition to LinkedIn Learning, podcasts. We've curated some of the best business podcasts and made them even easier to listen to. Each episode is split into sections, use the links in the contents area to skip to whichever section you like. We're always looking for new ways to help you learn, and we appreciate your feedback. Thanks for listening. (gentle guitar music) - [Presenter] 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. And now session one, our program introduction and overview. (gentle guitar music) - [Kelly] Welcome to the science of compassion, whenever I begin a new journey, I find it so helpful to connect to the heart and I wonder if, as you settle in to listen to the science and the stories of compassion, if you might join me in taking a few breaths and connecting to your heart. Wherever you are, dropping your awareness to the area around your physical heart and bringing your attention to how it feels to breathe. Perhaps imagining that you could inhale into your heart space, and exhale out of the heart. Taking a deep breath into the heart and breathing out of the heart. And taking one more breath, and settling into an awareness of this heart space. Whenever I teach a class or a workshop about compassion, I usually ask people to remember a time that they experienced compassion, whether it was a time that they were the recipient of someone else's compassion or a time when they felt compassion for someone else. And then I ask them to share those stories. And I thought that as we begin this journey together, I might share with you an experience that I had recently, that was for me, a profound experience of compassion. This happened about a month ago and I was on United flight from Newark, New Jersey to Denver. I was on my way to give a talk on the neuroscience of change to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and one thing you should know about me, is I really don't like flying. I have a kind of phobia of flying and usually when I'm on a plane, from takeoff to touchdown, I am tense, I am anxious, I am uncomfortable, I'm in a kind of state of existential dread, just waiting for it to be over. And no matter how many times I fly, how many flights I take, that never really seems to change, that experience of anxiety and dread on an airplane. So on this flight last month, it was actually a plane that had two-by-two configurations, so two seats in each aisle and the person I was sitting next to when we settled in, we said, hello, we did that kind of stranger nod and smile where you acknowledge each other's existence and then kind of agree to ignore each other for the next four hours of the flight. He was a tall man, maybe early to mid 40s. Seemed like a nice guy, but I was basically ready to go into my airplane bubble and not really have any contact with him for the rest of the flight. So about an hour into the flight, he received a call on his cell phone, which is actually something I'd never seen before, and at first I was actually kind of irritated by it. I was thinking, "Ugh, this guy, he's going to be talking on the phone." You know, how annoying, the plane was like the one last safe space from having to listen to one-sided cell phone conversations. And then after a couple of minutes, he ended the call, put the phone down on his tray table and burst into sobs. He actually collapsed, folded his arms on the tray table, and he was just, his chest was heaving, his shoulders were moving up and down, he was covering his face and I was stunned, right? This was a total shock. And there were two airline attendants close to us and they were shocked too, they actually froze and I made eye contact with them, like, none of us knew what to do. The airline attendants, they raced to the restroom and then they came out and started shoving tissues and paper towels from the bathroom into this man's lap and into his face. And as I sat there, sort of wondering what had happened, after an agonizing minute, he lifted his head and told us he had just gotten the news that his son was brain dead. He was on that flight because his son had been in an accident and he was on his way to see him in the hospital. And now he had just found out that he was not on his way to the hospital to see his son, but as he put it, to tell the medical staff to pull the tubes and donate his son's organs. (sighs) None of us knew what to say. The airline attendants, they gave him a glass of water and an airsickness bag, to do something, and then they just disappeared. And I asked this stranger, if he wanted a hand to hold, if he wanted a hug, if he wanted to talk, and I just kept saying, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry." "Is there anything I could do?" I asked him. And he said, "No," and he said he didn't want to talk. He looked me right in the eyes and said, "There's nothing you can say." And as we were looking at each other, tears were sliding down my cheeks and we were silent and just looking at each other for another minute. And then all of a sudden he stopped crying, he put his headphones back on and he resumed watching the in-flight movie that he'd been watching before he got that call, which as far as I could tell, just involved things being blown up. I didn't know what to do, but I knew I wanted to do something. This man had gone from being a complete stranger that I was planning to ignore for four hours, to someone I now felt a strong sense of connection to, and I didn't want to go back into my bubble of pretending that we weren't connected. So I started practicing a compassion meditation called Tonglen, and this is a practice where you imagine breathing another person's suffering into your heart, imagining that person suffering as a dark smoke or a thick cloud, and so I imagined his suffering, his pain, as a thick cloud that I could breathe into my heart, and I remember thinking, "Hey, my heart can hold this." And I sensed every breath I took, it felt like my heart was expanding, it felt like my chest was swelling. And I imagined breathing that dark cloud in and I imagined breathing out clear air and compassion. And as I imagined breathing compassion out of my heart, the words, "I love you, sir, I love you, sir," kept running through my mind, which is kind of funny because those aren't the traditional phrases you say, when you do compassion meditation or Tonglen. Normally, you would say things like, "May you be free from suffering. May you know, peace." But all I kept thinking was, "I love you, sir, I love you." And I don't even know what that sir was about. Maybe it was like a sense of wanting to acknowledge that he was a stranger, that this wasn't my grief, and not wanting to intrude on his private experience. But also I feel like it was wanting to show him some kind of respect. Like it was perfectly dignified if he wanted to sob on a plane hurdling through the sky, because he was on his way to see his son who was now brain dead. We had almost three hours left on the flight and I practiced Tonglen most of that time, and every now and then, the man sitting next to me would start crying again, just for a minute and then stop and go back to watching a movie. And in that three hours, in addition to practicing Tonglen, I thought about the fact that his son would be donating organs that somehow in his own suffering, this man had made a choice of offering compassion to others. That the man sitting next to me had gotten the worst phone call of his life, it was possible that I'd actually witnessed the worst moment of his life and that because of that call, there would be many people who would be getting what might be the best call of their lives. A call they'd been desperately waiting for and praying for. That soon there would be tears of joy and gratitude and relief because people would be receiving this man's son's organs. And that these two opposites could be true at the same time, this horrendous loss and pain and this miraculous hope. And although it's probably the least important thing that was happening in that moment, I couldn't help but notice the absolute absence of my own anxiety. It was the most calm and centered I'd ever felt on a flight, even when the pilot got on the loudspeaker, giving us warnings of a snow storm in Denver and how turbulent the landing was going to be. Something had shifted. My compassion for him had dissolved my fear, and I'd never experienced anything like that on a flight before. I'm not sure that I did anything to actually relieve this man's suffering, but the experience stood out to me as a really powerful, personal experience of compassion and I wanted to share it with you because I think it actually is an example that really highlights a lot of the different dimensions of compassion.