Cultivating Resilience in Chaplaincy: Keynote by Frank Rogers

October 11, 2019

[MUSIC PLAYING] Good morning. Good morning. We’re so glad to welcome you
to Harvard Divinity School. And today’s conference focuses
on cultivating resilience for chaplaincy. And this project has been
sponsored by Harvard Divinity’s Office of Ministries
Studies and has been developed in cooperation
with David Freudberg, producer of the “Spiritual Care”
podcast and also “Humankind.” The conference has
largely been funded by a grant from the
Henry Luce Foundation, and also is produced in
association with the BTS Center BTS stands for Bangor
Theological Seminary, but it doesn’t stand for Bangor
Theological Seminary anymore. It’s just BTS because BTS
is no longer in Bangor, and it is no longer a seminary. It is, however, part
of our profound support for this conference. We know that many of
you have traveled here from very far
geographically or otherwise, and we’re also
welcoming folks who are joining us via live stream. Your presence here today
is crucial to our building a community of learning
throughout the day, so welcome. I’m Emily Click, and I direct
the Field Education program at Harvard Divinity School. And I also serve on the faculty
and lecture on ministry. During my 12 years here, I have
seen our students’ interest in and commitment to chaplaincy
grow almost exponentially. And this increase in
investment and chaplaincy might be attributed
in part to the fact that over the past
15 years or so, Harvard Divinity School
has expanded and deepened its already longstanding
commitment to prepare our graduates for ministerial
service within, yet also beyond, any single
religious tradition. Our dedication to
understanding ministry as work shared across and
beyond religious traditions means our graduates are
well prepared to serve in institutional contexts,
such as hospitals, prisons, and within the armed services,
as well as higher education. Pluralistic understandings
are, however, only one reason why so
many HDS alums go on to a lifetime of
institutional service, often in the role of chaplains. Our students and graduates want
to address racial injustice, economic challenges, and
to support individuals who serve in the most
demanding of contexts, such as the armed services. Our students want their work
to address human suffering. Our pluralistic
orientation, as well as our well-developed
and ever-evolving Arts of Ministry designations
within Field Education, as well as coursework will
serve them well as chaplains. A wonderful curriculum
is, however, only part of the tool kit one
needs to engage in chaplaincy, where profound human suffering
confounds the caregiver’s journey. The work our alumni
engage requires a lifetime of sustained involvement
with problems that defy easy solutions. This kind of work can be
thrilling in its satisfactions. Yet chaplaincy also
requires accompanying others through shadow-filled
passageways. Moments of celebration
and great joy frequently are also
a part of this work. And this conference is one way
we in the Office of Ministry Studies would like to
offer encouragement for the chaplain’s journey
through its many peaks and valleys. And we recognize that
listening to and learning from those who have long
sojourned in these occupations can never be overdone. Today is therefore, first
and foremost, an opportunity to hear from chaplains who have
cultivated their own practices to enable sustained engagement
with chaplaincy over time. And we’re calling
healthy engagement over time resiliency. So today’s core
agenda, therefore, is to listen to the many ways
actual practitioners cultivate resiliency for work over time. This morning, we’ll
hear from Frank Rogers, whom I’ll introduce
more fully in a moment. His work in
practicing compassion provides a very
helpful, concrete way we may all grow toward
greater resiliency in whatever role or field we serve. Later this morning, we will
listen to two seasoned leaders who have cultivated
practices of resiliency while leading
within institutions. Rabbi Patricia
Karlin-Neumann will reflect on her 20 years-plus of
service at Stanford University, presently as the senior
associate dean for Religious Life, and Sensei Joshin Byrnes
will reflect on his work as vice abbot of Upaya Zen
Center, where many Buddhist chaplains come to prepare
for service in health care institutions. Then, in the afternoon,
we’ll have an opportunity to attend workshops
led by chaplains from military, prison, higher
ed, and hospital settings. We’ve asked them
to do two things. One is to talk about chaplaincy
in their particular context. We also, however, have
framed the conference as less about a type of chaplaincy– as you know better than
I do, it isn’t chaplaincy that is hospital
chaplaincy, it’s a quality of caring for
others, and engagement with others that includes and
is based in a quality of caring for self. And therefore, you may want
to learn this afternoon– it’ll be your choice– from a chaplain serving in
a context quite different from the one you might serve in,
simply because their insights about resiliency
might serve you well as you develop your
own understandings. We asked our
presenters in advance what were their
definitions for resiliency? As you listen to my
excerpts just now from their definitions,
I invite you to begin the journey
of the day in growing your own understandings
of resiliency. For example, one
of our presenters shared that resiliency is not
so much about bouncing back, but one’s ability to stay tough. Another pointed
out that if we’re engaged in life-giving
work and service, that is naturally revitalizing. One wanted to
emphasize the capacity to stay connected to the
moment, to self, to another, to a higher power, to something
greater than one’s self. And another pointed
out that resilience is the capacity for
perspective, meaning making. And they made a note– spiritual resilience is not the
absence of spiritual distress or suffering. Another explained the
circularity of resilience. Resilience is the
ability to return. Returning is the
ability to circle back. And circling back is
the ability to remember why you began the journey. And remembering the
journey is beginning again at the beginning. To practice resilience is to
remember why the journey began. And here is a definition that
offers the most succinct one of resiliency– it is cooperating with our
primal orientation toward life. Let me make just a few
announcements before I introduce our morning speaker. You have the entire
schedule in your packets, so I’m only going to highlight
right now its overall shape. We will spend our entire
morning here in the Sperry Room. And then, we’ll walk down
the hall to the Braun Room at the other end of Andover
Hall for our lunch together. And after lunch, we will
have two different workshops sessions. That will be followed, again,
by a final hour here in what we call Sperry, the Sperry Room. In fact, our graduates
sing a version of “In the Sperry Room.” I don’t know if any of you are
ready to sing that for folks. It’s a hoot. So we’ll conclude
our day by 4:30. You should know a few things
to make you comfortable. First of all, I’d
like to acknowledge the staff of our Office
of Ministry Studies, who have worked very
hard to put together every aspect of this program. I’m indebted to many
who I will now name. And most of them are
out running around and probably won’t be here
to receive our applause, but we are going
to appreciate them. Leslie, way over there
in the corner, and Laura. [APPLAUSE] Carol, who’s down the
hall, and Sue Reuther. Fran, who is not here today,
but worked tirelessly for weeks. And Sally, who is here today,
and greeted you, and gave you your name tags, and much more. We appreciate their
stuffing packets, ordering flowers,
arranging for coat racks, thinking in advance,
what does resiliency mean, who might present
that, who might we invite, and so forth. I also know that Dudley Rose,
the associate dean for Ministry Studies joins me in
appreciating them and welcoming each and every one of you here. We will have abundant food,
as you already know, and I’ve experienced, and drink offerings
at our morning and afternoon breaks, and then a generous
and vegetarian lunch, which means you
might want to know where to locate the restrooms. [LAUGHTER] Down the stairs or elevator–
we have an elevator at the end of the
hall, or you can sneak upstairs the
second and third floors, where there’s just one
restroom on each floor. If you listened
carefully, you realized there are no restrooms on
this level of Andover– soon to be renovated,
very old building. Welcome. Frank Rogers, Jr. is the Muriel
Bernice Roberts professor of Spiritual Formation
and Narrative at Claremont School of Theology. He offers his wise
and skillful gifts for storytelling as part of
engaging practical compassion for the good of the world. Along with Professor
Andrew Dreitcer, Frank Rogers
co-directs the Center for Engaged Compassion at
Claremont School of Theology. This center offers unique
processes of engaged compassion that transform the
desire to help others into practical actions that
change the world for good. The center teaches concrete,
learnable practices, skills, and perspectives that
give individuals, groups, communities, organizations,
religious congregations, and governments the capabilities
and sensibilities for creating genuine, peace,
healing, reconciliation, and collaboration,
through the formation of engaged compassion. Doctor Rogers’
research and teaching focuses on spiritual
formation that is contemplative, creative,
and socially liberating. A trained spiritual director
and experienced retreat leader, he has written on
the interconnections between spirituality, social
engagement, and compassion. He’s the author of
Practicing Compassion and a supplemental curriculum,
The Way of Radical Compassion. He’s also written The God
of Shattered Glass, a novel, and Finding God in the
Graffiti: Empowering Teenagers Through Stories, which explores
the role of the narrative arts– storytelling,
drama, creative writing, and autobiography– in
the spiritual formation of marginalized and
abused youth and children. His current project is
designing and teaching in the Triptykos
School of Compassion, a three-month intensive
formation program in the spiritual path of Jesus. I will take a brief
prerogative to also say that Frank has been a very
important mentor for me. During my doctoral
studies at Claremont, he was on my
dissertation committee. I count him as one of the
most transformative teachers I have ever had the
honor of learning from, and therefore join
you in turning to him with an open
heart to learn even more. Welcome, Frank. [APPLAUSE] I was going to say,
wow, I want that job. And now I want to
be that person. My goodness, what a
generous introduction. I’m really grateful to
Emily to invite me here, and to David Freudberg
for including me in this wonderful endeavor,
and all the people that have supported and worked
out all the logistics. It’s been just a very
lovely way of being here. I also want to express my
gratitude to all of you who are chaplains or who are
training to be chaplains. You are the ones who
are on the front lines. You are engaging
with persons who are enduring some of the
most extreme circumstances of their lives. They are facing difficult
illnesses, or death, or military encounters. They are facing
violence in communities, in schools, incarcerations. And you are present
with those folks. And for me, that’s
a very sacred task. You’re helping them all know
that in the midst of things that are as tragic and difficult
that they’ll ever face, they’re not alone. You are with them. And as such, you’re embodying a
sacred care that is with them, as well– that sees it all, that holds
it all, that sustains them through it all. And that is sacred work. The last two years, I’ve had two
losses in my life, as different as can be. My mother-in-law,
my wife’s mother, 90-year-old elder
passing away– encircled by all of her children
and their partners, an absolute moment
of transcendent grace as she slipped away. And then my little sister, who
died alone of despair in a car by herself. And in both cases, chaplains
were symbols and embodiments of radical care and compassion. I teach people who are
becoming chaplains. I was a chaplain in the
prison and children’s homes. I’m on the board of
a CPE training site. I know how this works. And when I am in the midst
of grief and suffering, I can still be cut to the
core by the caring presence that people like you offer. The woman who came to
us at my mother-in-law, she had us all in a
circle– a literal circle– holding each other. And then because she had been
companioning her for months, knew that the rosary
was the most important spiritual practice that
she was holding on to, and had us all
saying the rosary. We hadn’t done that in years– years and years. We were stumbling
our way through it, but it was the
exact right thing, as her kids are engaging
in the practice that kept her alive spiritually. And then when I went to
see with my brother-in-law to the hospital to
identify my sister’s body, and I am shell-shocked
with grief. The tragedy’s so unexpected. And I walk out into the
lobby, and here comes this young chaplain. It was clear he had not
been a chaplain for long. And he was uncomfortable. And he was very talkative. Oh, I’m so sorry for what
you’re going through. And I know this
must be a hard time. And I just looked at him. I was in a stony
stare of shock, just looking at him as his
words just washed past me. And then it was like a switch
went off, and he got it, and he stopped talking. And he could see. And he says– I got nothing. I just know it’s
wrong, and it sucks, and I’ll sit here with you. And I wept, and he sat with me. This is sacred work
that you all do. You are embodiments of
care and compassion. And in those moments, it is like
you are icons or instruments, channels of whatever sacred
energy of compassion permeates through our planet, and
offer little whispers and glimpses that sustain us. I’m grateful. It’s also hard work, right? It takes its toll being through
those types of circumstances on our physical health,
our emotional well-being. It can put strains
on our relationships. It can even wear away
some of the foundations of our own faith and meaning. It is hard work. It’s no wonder that statistics
range between 40% and 80% of human caregivers
will experience the symptoms of burnout
or compassion fatigue in the course of their work. It takes its toll on us. And so what I would
like to do today is offer some of the
things that I’ve learned about compassion on my journey. The work we do is engaging
practices of compassion that are healing and personally
restorative and empowering, and also how compassion can
be socially and relationally transformative, especially
in times of conflict. And some of the
things that we’re learning about
compassion, I think, have implications for
caregivers in general, and for chaplains in particular. So I want to offer three
ways that compassion can be a source of resiliency
in the practice of caregiving. The first is that compassion
can be a renewing source of our vocational purpose. It’s the source of our call. [? Carrie ?] [? Backer, ?]
one of our PhD students, just completed her dissertation. It’s Dr. [? Backer ?] now. And she was working
with persons who are experiencing secondary
trauma, vicarious trauma, burnout, or what has been
called compassion fatigue. So she gathered a group of folks
who are in the most difficult of circumstances,
like a prison chaplain that works with inmates who’ve
been convicted of sex crimes, and people working in
hospice, people working in trauma units, people
working in inner city schools where violence is
surrounding the school. And she put them through this
program of compassion training. And she discovered
several things. First of all, it
was compassion that inspired each of their
vocations in the first place. It was compassion– being
moved by suffering or seeing people moved by suffering,
and the possibility of being able to offer
compassionate care that inspired us to get into the
work in the first place. She also discovered, though,
that every single one of these persons
experiencing secondary trauma had lost touch with
their sense of call. They were disconnected from
that spiritual resource that gave rise to
why they were doing the work in the first place. And the third thing
she discovered is in inviting them into
practices that reconnected them to their own sources of
sacred compassion restored their own sense of
call and purpose, and it mobilized
their own resilience. This rings intuitively
to us, right? It is compassion. That is why we do
the work that we do. Somewhere along the
way, perhaps, we were experiencing compassion
from somebody else. You might even think
in your own lives, what were some of those
lodestars that brought you into this work? I’ll never forget
my youth minister when I was in high
school, and we were in a family
traumatic crisis, and he was the one who took
the time to come and sit with me in the midst of that. I wanted to be like
him when I grew up. Or sometimes are
mentors in our lives, exemplars of
compassion, people who are vocational lodestars that
embody the kind of presence we would love to
be in the world. I remember also, when I was in
high school my grandmother– Italian Catholic. Italian is her first language. English is her second language,
which was always with Italian thrown into it. And when our Sunday
school teacher came down with, not with AIDS, but at
that time it was called GRID– Gay-Related Immune Deficiency–
before they realized that it was blood
transfused that went way beyond simply
persons who were gay. And he was ostracized
from our church. My grandmother took him in. And I watched as she
washed his wounds, and put ointment
on his KS lesions. And I said, that’s
the kind of compassion I want to embody in this world. And sometimes it’s
when we’ve encountered suffering ourselves, and we’re
moved by the pain that we see. And we ache to be able to
offer some kind of healing, sustaining presence
in the midst of it. In the midst of all that
we do, it’s really easy to forget why we do what we do. There are so many people who
are aching for our attention in our ministries. There are institutional
chaos and complexities that can be distracted. There’s all the burdens
of our regular lives that we’re trying to
manage on top of that. And it’s very easy to forget. Why do we do this? How did I get into this
in the first place? What was that renewing,
inspiring, presence that enabled me to imagine
a vocation of caregiving? I remember like
it was yesterday, one of those moments that
really inspired my own call. I was in college. I was all of 20 years old. I was a religious studies major. And I had to do a
summer internship. And so I found this
working class church in south San Francisco. And for the summer, I
was the summer intern. And in those
particular locations, when you’re a summer intern, it
gives the pastor an opportunity to go on an extended vacation. So for six weeks, I was
the only pastoral presence within this congregation. And that was OK. I mean, I thought,
I can do this. And so I’m not getting
my sermons written. And I’ve got Sunday school
classes, and the whole bit. And one day I drive up to the
church– this Saturday morning. And I got to finishing touches
on the worship bulletin for the next day. And as I get there
early in the morning, here is this 11-year-old boy
who is already there waiting for somebody to drive up. He’s got ripped-up
blue jeans on. He’s got does this
Army trench coat. His hair is all frizzled out. And as I come up, he
comes running over. And he says, excuse me, as
I’m getting out of the car. Are you the priest? Well no, I’m the summer intern. [LAUGHTER] Well, well, that’s OK. Will you come down to our house? Something terrible
happened last night, and we have nobody to talk to. My brother– he
just killed himself, and my mom is alone
in her living room. Five minutes later, I’m pulling
up in front of this house. The paint has been
peeling off of the side. There’s grass has long
since turned to dirt. There’s strewn automobile
parts all across the yard. And I walk into this
living room, where here is a mother who is staring
vacantly down the hallway into the bedroom where
her 16-year-old boy had taken a handgun and realized
that life was just too hard. I have no idea what
I said or what I did. I just remember being in the
presence of unimaginable grief. What I do remember
is when I left, and Tony, the
11-year-old, he says, hey, can I drive back to
the church with you? I said, of course. We drive back up. I invite him into my office. He does, no, no, let’s just sit
out here, and we start talking. And that’s when I realized what
was going on with this boy. His father was this
raging alcoholic who would beat up anything
and anybody in his sight. His mom was so depressed,
she spent most of her days in bed unable to
get up the energy to cook meals for the boys. And his older brother
Danny was his idol. He tried to dress like Danny. He tried to act like Danny. He loved Danny. And Danny was the one who
just abandoned his life. And as he’s sharing
this, the enormity of what it means for this
boy begins to come to me. And after a while, he says,
the reason I wanted to come is I have a question. Something really weird
happened a few months ago. Dad came home. He was totally rocked. We had to get the
hell out of there. So we went down the hill. We went to the liquor store. We got a couple of
bottles of soda. And we just set by a handball
court at the elementary school, waiting until it was safe enough
for us to go back to the house. And it was dark. And it was nighttime. And we’re just sitting. We’re not even talking. And all of a sudden,
this shooting star shoots across the sky. And on an impulse,
the two of them start wishing on this star. And Danny says
something like, boy, I wish I had a brand new car. And Tony says, I wish
I had a brand new bike. I wish I could play
baseball like Willie Mays. I wish I could pitch
like Juan Marichal. I wish that Regina
had the hots for me. I wish Suzy would
leave me alone. I wish dad didn’t drink so much. I wish mom wasn’t so sad. I wish dad were dead. I wish mom just beat
him up one time. I wish I were a long,
long way away from here. And the way Tony
described it, he didn’t have an echo for
that wish because it was like Danny was a long way away. And he snaps back, and he
says, do you know what I wish? I wish I could fly. And if I could fly, I would
fly out of this world. I would fly through space
until I found heaven. I would fly right until I
found myself in front of God. And I would look God
straight in the face. And what I wish is
that God would smile. And he takes his Coke
bottle, shatters it against the concrete
wall, and says, but that bastard would
probably turn his back. And Tony looks to me and
says, what I want to know, was he right? I mean, I know you can’t. But if you could– if you could fly
and see God’s face, would God smile, or would
God turn God’s back? Tony’s question has haunted
me through all these years. Because for me, he
names, he gives voice some longing that lies at the
heart of every human being I’ve encountered
in severe crisis. It comes out in different
ways, but they are all asking something like, in
the midst of the suicides, in the midst of the
terminal diagnoses, in the midst of this
life-stopping incarceration, am I alone? Is the universe
cold and capricious? Is whatever I’m experiencing so
despairing, so excruciating, so shaming, perhaps, that whatever
is sacred in this world recedes and abandons me? Or is there a presence? For me, we do this work
because we know those spaces. We’ve been in those places,
asking that haunting question. We’ve known, grief, despair. And we’ve known
something else, as well. That in the midst of
the night, of that pain, something sustained us. Some whisper of grace,
whisper of care, of compassion that
enables us to be present to our own
pain, which enables us to be present to another. It’s miraculous that we know
some sacred resource that allows us to be with the
Tonys and Tanyas of the world. And being with them is the
answer to their question. It is being that presence
that is not turning its back, but holding, and
seeing, and extending compassionate presence. And when we do
that, we are aligned with the sacred compassionate
energy of the universe. That’s why we do what we do. And that’s what sustains us. One of the invitations
of compassion is to remember the sources
of our own call and vocation, and to be reconnected,
deeply connected to them because that’s what sustains
us in the work that we do. Second way compassion
offers resilience, and that is that
self-compassion is actually the source of self-restoration. When we are feeling disconnected
from our resources, when we feel far away
from our capacities to offer the kind of
compassionate care we feel called to embody, it
is actually self-compassion that is the healing
agent that restores us to our resources, that
restores us to our best self. Let me describe
how we understand his work at the Center
for Engaged Compassion. Let me start with
a little story. So when my son Justin was like
eight months old– he’s 27. This was years and years ago. He was at this age where he’d
just sit in his stroller, and he would just love
to take the world in. He just was wide-eyed,
looking at everybody. And we were at a mall
visiting grandparents. And all the other family
members are shopping. And we weren’t
really into shopping. So I’m walking him through the
courtyards of the mall, him in his stroller. And he’s just
looking at everybody. And I leaned up
against the planter. And I’m just kind
of rocking him. And I look off to the
side, and here comes this woman walking towards us. And what’s most striking about–
she’s probably retirement age– is that she is as hard,
and angry, and upset as I can imagine. Her whole face is tight her. Jaw is clenched. She is scowling. And her head is twitching
as she is bulldozing her way through the mall towards us. I don’t know what– she
got jilted by somebody, or she’s going to
chew somebody out. But she was upset. People are getting
out of her way because she’s getting out of
the way for nobody, right? Handbag’s clenched,
shopping bags– oh, and she’s marching. What I don’t realize
is, Justin’s sitting in his stroller. He’s looking at her, too. She’s twitching her head,
bulldozing her way towards us. She gets close. She doesn’t break stride. But as she gets near, her
head twitches off to the side, she sees Justin, and for
a moment their eyes lock. And Justin does the
craziest thing– he smiles. And the second he smiles,
all of the hardness of this woman– it melted away. She got on her knees,
dropped her bags, and for several
minutes, the two of them are giggling and
smiling at each other. She’s tickling
him under the arm. He’s grabbing after her glasses. It is like mirrors of
unconditional delight in the beauty of each other. And after a while,
as they’re just beaming this love to each
other, she looks up at me, notices that I’m
standing there, too, and she says, God bless him. God bless him. And God bless you, too. She grabs her bags,
and she walks away. One of the things that
our research has confirmed is something that many
contemplative spiritual traditions have known all along. And that is that we have innate
capacities for compassion. We are wired to care. Attachment theorists have
confirmed this, as well. Babies need
compassionate connection to thrive as much as
we need air to breathe. And it’s wired into us. Justin, himself,
at eight months old is seeking
compassionate connection with another human being. And we all have
those capacities. It’s who we are. When we are in our essence, when
we are in our best self, when we are in touch with that core
of how we were created to be, we are compassionate. When all the hardness
can melt away, it just arises and emerges. That woman doesn’t
need a little manual. What do you do when a baby
smiles at you at a mall? Well, you kind of tickle
him under the arm, and you might grab the glasses. No. When the hardness
goes, compassion just flows freely and fully. Essence goes by different names,
the Buddha nature within us, the Imago Dei within us. Rumi called it the
beloved lover that lies like an immortal
diamond deep in every soul. And that capacity
for compassion, that essence of care– it beats like a pilot
light of the human spirit in every single human being. It even beats in Damian. Damian is a gentleman
who was part of a program that Ruth Gordon initiated. I don’t know if you
know Ruth Gordon. She started the Roots of
Empathy project in Toronto. And what Ruth Gordon
discovered was that there were ways that
you can cultivate empathy in schoolchildren. And what she would do
is she would actually bring a parent with a young
infant or child, a toddler, into the class, and allow
the classmates to interact with the baby. Well Damien– Damien
was an eighth grader. He was already fully
tattooed, and piercings all over his body. He had been passed in and out
of foster homes, institutions, since he was four years old. He was aggressive to the
point of being assaultive. He was going to need to
go to a reform school. He could not pay attention. He was constantly batting forth
about what they had to do. And the reason for all of
his aggression and hostility was well-known to the teachers. When he was four years old,
he watched his father kill his mother in front of him. His mother dead, his
father sent to prison, he was passed around
from institution after institution, none of
them able to contain him with all of his rage until he’s
now an assault away from reform school. Nobody conferred with
Damian about Ruth Gordon coming to class that day,
and he was having none of it. The teacher says, that’s fine. You just go ahead and go into
the corner, and watch a video. Don’t worry about it. The rest of the kids are
going to do this program. And so for a while, the
baby is being passed around. And they have it on a blanket. And all the kids are
gooing and gahing, and it’s cultivating
their capacities for empathy and compassion. Until it’s time that
the baby’s starting to get ready to go to sleep. She’s tired. And so the mom picks
up the baby and says, I’m going to need
to put her down. And Damien walks over from the
corner and says, excuse me, but can I put the baby to sleep? And the teacher’s thinking no. But the mom kind of trusts
her own instinct, and says, well, sure. And so they put a
snugly on Damien. And then they put the
baby into the Snugli. And instantly, he just starts
to rock and just tap the baby. And the baby looks up at the mom
to see if it’s OK, and it is. And the baby closes her eyes,
and goes to sleep on his chest. And Damien starts walking. Look, look, I put her to sleep. Isn’t that cool? I put her to sleep. And after a while, it’s
time for the mom to go. Tenderly, he passes the
baby back to the mom. And as she’s getting her things,
he goes up to the teacher, and he says, tell
me, do you think it’s possible to be a good
dad, even if you’ve never been loved in your life? Even through all the brutalities
that this young man has endured in his life, the understandable
hardness and aggressiveness that he has learned to protect
himself with, still, deep down, there beats this
capacity for compassion. It beats in us all. And when we are in
that essence, when we are restored back
to our best self, compassion is relatively easy. It flows naturally. And we may experience this. When we’re at the
top of our game– we’re going into the hospital,
or we’re going to the prison, or we’re going to the school,
and we’re in our zone, we’re feeling good– we feel expansive. We feel grounded. We feel ready and open
to people’s experience. And if somebody shared
something difficult, our heart would be moist and
soft, ready to receive that. The problem is the
times when we are not in that essence, when we are
not in that grounded flow. Sometimes we show up
to work, and we’re feeling exhausted and depleted. Or we’re feeling overwhelmed. Or we’re feeling despairing. Or we’re feeling
irritated at the dynamics, the political dynamics,
that are going on at work. Or we’re distracted
by the burdens that we’re carrying from home. Or sometimes we show up to
work, and we feel just fine, and then we
encounter that person that has the capacity to
trigger all the anxiety in us. No, don’t send me to
that patient, please. Right? Or that coworker that
just knows what to say, or the supervisor,
or the bureaucrat, and they get under his
skin, and we’re activated. And now we’ve got to go extend
compassion to somebody, right? And what we normally do
when we get hijacked, knocked off of our center– what spiritual
directors, they call these interior
movements– our numbness, our anxieties, our irritations–
what we normally do is we try to suppress it. We try to grit our teeth
and suck up an energy, a feigned niceness that
we can give to people. And that is exhausting. That’s what leads to burnout. We’re extending fumes that
we don’t have within us. One of the invitations
of self-compassion is when that happens to
not beat ourselves up, not judge ourselves, not try
to push and suppress, not try to manage away what is
happening in our interior life because that doesn’t work. First of all, it’s a form
of interior violence, right? I’m beating myself up because
I’m irritated at my boss, and yet I’m going to go in
and be nice and compassionate to somebody. It’s like screaming
my way into silence, screaming my way to be relaxed. It is counterproductive
knowing that it doesn’t work. What happens with
our irritations, or our exhaustions,
and our numbness? We just try to pretend
that we don’t feel it. It’s like pushing
a buoy under water. It just keeps popping back up. And the reason is because
there is a spiritual invitation present in our own
interior reactivities. And this is the game
changer for self-compassion. Every one of our interior
movements and interior states is there for a reason. They are rooted in
some deep needs that are aching to be heard,
aching to be met, so that we can have
the resources where we are grounded, and strong, and
safe, and resilient, and open. It’s like our numbness,
our exhaustion, our anger, our anxiety are little
flags inside of us aching to get our attention,
aching for us to turn inward, and say, whoa, what’s going on? What do you need
from me right now? The invitation of
self-compassion– we call it taking a U-turn. When I’m not in that
grounded essence, and I’m feeling agitated or
numb, just take a moment, and take the U-turn. Turn inward and just
notice what is going on. Don’t judge, don’t suppress,
just be contemplatively aware. And then be curious,
and treat ourselves like we would treat another
human being who comes in and says, you know what? I gotta go give compassion
to this patient, but I’m just so
angry at my boss. We wouldn’t say, well, a good
chaplain wouldn’t be so angry. What’s wrong with you? Just swallow that
anger and put it away, and go be compassionate. We don’t do that. But we do that to ourselves. The radical invitation
of self-compassion is to when we get
hijacked to not judge, but to turn inward and become
mindfully aware of what’s happening within us, and
then listen for the cry that is hidden underneath. Let me give an example– purely hypothetical. So I might do a lot of speaking
and lead a lot of retreats. And I’m away for two weeks,
and working every single day, and I come home on a Sunday. Maybe I’m even flying,
say, from the east coast. And I arrive on
a Sunday evening. And it’s about 10 o’clock. And it’s been a good week. I’m feeling really good. But I’m tired. And as soon as the plane
lands, I turn on my cell phone, and there is a voicemail from
my sister Michelle in Las Vegas. Frank, I don’t care
what time it is. You’ve got to call me. It’s a crisis. Call now. And compassionate man that I
am, I go no, Michelle, come on! You’ve got to be kidding. Why do you always come to me? Take care of yourself. What is wrong with you? You ask me to call
you right now. And then, of course, I go– look at you, Mr.
Compassion Man, right? Oh, yeah, don’t
tell this to people when you’re talking
about compassion. They’ll realize you’re a fraud. I mean, a real
person of compassion would have compassion and call– I know, but not now. I’m exhausted. So these are two
interior movements that are having a little
battle, trying to take over the bus of my consciousness. For those of you know how
internal family systems work, that informs a
lot of what we do. These are just two parts– a part of me that is
exhausted, and a part of me that’s beating myself up. I should be a good big brother. Two parts that are
fighting for control. The invitation of
self-compassion is just catch your
breath for a moment. And then turn inward, and just
notice, so what’s going on? Let me just breathe
and be aware that there are these energies here– an energy of exhaustion
and an energy of guilt. OK, let me just be with them. But then, let me listen to them. Each is a cry aching to be met. What is this groan saying no? What’s this deep longing? I’m tired. I’ve been working for days. I need a break. I need space to
regroup, of course. And this guilt–
what’s its deep cry? I love my sister. Of course, I want to be for her. Of course I want to be
a comfort and a source. But I want to do it when
I’m really available and I’m not faking my way. OK, so what might I do now
that honors both needs? And notice, I’m getting
reconnected to my true self. I’m grounded again. I’m internally calibrated again. My reactivity has relaxed, and
I’m available to my resources. You know what? There’s all kinds of
things I could do. I could call her
up and say, yeah, I can talk with you right now. But tomorrow, I’m canceling
all my appointments. I’m spending the
day in the woods. Or I my text her and say,
you know, Michelle, I really want to be with you. I want to when I’m
really available. I’ll call you at 10, but I
have to get a night’s sleep before I can. It doesn’t matter. But I’m acting from
a different space. Self-compassion is
restorative, and it helps us access our
resources from which we are the best caregivers. OK, number three– I don’t know why I
even write down notes. I never look at them. Third way that compassion is
a resource for resilience, and that is that
compassion for others is actually the
antidote to burnout. Compassion is the cure
to compassion fatigue. Now, I know this sounds
counterintuitive, right? I mean, we think compassion
is what does fatigue us. It is pouring ourselves
out, and offering ourselves, and absorbing people’s pain. But in truth, that’s not
what the research shows. The research shows that
compassion is not depleting. Its replenishing. That compassion, when we
are in genuine compassion, is actually physically,
emotionally, and spiritually restorative. It does not lead to
exhaustion and fatigue. So what’s going on? Well, the issue is we
have a false understanding of compassion, and we
confuse it with empathy. The leading researcher today
on empathy is Tania Singer. Maybe some of you know her. She is a social neuroscientist. And she’s very interested in
studying the neurophysiology involved in prosocial emotions. And so empathy was her
primary research topic for a number of years. And what she found–
what empathy is– it is when we are
emotionally affected by the emotional
affect of another. It is when we feel their
pain, when we take that on and experience that. And what she found
was in the brain, she actually found where
empathy is located. When we see somebody’s
pain, we feel pain. The part of our brain
that gets activated is the part that
activates when we are in the same kind of pain. So it’s a mirroring
process that’s happened. They call it
affective isomorphism. We are feeling a
similar feeling. We see somebody’s joy– the way we feel joy, and the
joy we note gets activated, and that part of
our brain happens. So she’s studying all this,
and she writes on this, and realizes that this
is what empathy is. And this happens to us all. I mean, we know how to be
emotionally attuned to folks. This is the stock of
our trade as caregivers. We see a person that is
in pain, and we wince. We take that pain. Oh, yeah, I feel that pain. Or somebody is just
morally outraged– do you know what happened today? And we go, yeah, that’s right. I’m morally outraged, too. It’s empathy. It is a mirroring
of the emotion. A teenager just
won a soccer game, and is celebrating, and has joy. And we feel joy and
enthusiasm, too. It’s empathy. We are mirroring
the pains, right? Empathy is not compassion. But Tania Singer
didn’t know that. So she gets a research
grant to study compassion. And she meets a Buddhist monk. His name is Matthieu Ricard. Matthieu Ricard had a PhD
himself in molecular biology. And at a young age, gave it
all away, moved to India, and joined a community there,
and has been a Buddhist monk ever since, some 40, 50 years. Matthieu Ricard is the one
that Richie Davidson studied at the University
of Wisconsin when they were trying to notice
the brain activity of monks when they were practicing
contemplative practices– beautiful, beautiful research. So Tania Singer gets
Matthieu Ricard, and she says, I have access
to a live MRI machine. So that is, I can put
you in the machine, you can experience
something, do a practice, and I could watch live time
what’s happening in your brain. Would you be willing to help me
with the study on compassion? Absolutely. Puts him in the machine, and
says, OK, practice compassion. And she’s looking
at her brain scans. And he’s not feeling compassion. She knows what compassion is. It’s at the empathy
part of the brain. It’s not lighting up. She waits, she waits– what’s
the matter with this guy? Is he thinking about lunch? Is he distracted? He comes on out, and he
says, so what was going on? What were you doing? He goes, well, I was
feeling compassion. You were feeling–
are you sure you weren’t thinking
about something else? Thinking about are you
hungry, are you tired? No, no, I was doing
the meta compassion– I was feeling compassion,
deep profound compassion. So she’s trying
to test this out. And so are you saying
that you are feeling the suffering of some people? No, I wasn’t feeling
their suffering. I was feeling compassion. Is it possible for you to
feel the suffering of another? Well, sure, it is. Well, let’s try that. Put him back in the machine. And so apparently, he had
watched a BBC documentary the night before about
some Romanian children who were in an orphanage. They were underfed. They were emaciated. They had that vacant stare of
the shell-shocked traumatized, and he starts
thinking about them. And all of a sudden, the empathy
part of his brain lights up. In fact, it goes bang busters. Because ah, he can
feel compassion. She notices it, measures it,
and then brings him back up. Thank you. Yes, OK, that worked. Says, OK, yeah, but you’re
not going to leave me there, are you? What do you mean,
leave you there? You’re feeling compassion. No, I wasn’t feeling compassion. I was feeling their pain. It’s exhausting. It’s overwhelming. I’m taking it into my system. Please, don’t leave me there. Let me feel compassion. Well, all right, let’s put
you back in and try that. There’s the empathy again. Yeah, he still feels their pain. And then, all of a sudden,
it starts to subside. It doesn’t go away. It’s still there. But just enough that he’s
emotionally connected. And then this whole
other part of the brain lights up that she didn’t
even notice the first time. It’s the part of the brain
that releases oxytocin. It’s the part of the
brain that is active when parents are gazing
upon their children when they’re sleeping at night. It’s the part of
the brain that got activated in the mall
when that woman saw Justin smiling at her. It’s this warm rush. It’s the part of the brain that
gets activated when we fall in love and we see our beloved. It’s a regenerative,
restorative feeling that changes everything inside. It’s the attachment
affiliate of systems that are being
accessed, not the pain systems and the protective
systems that then get enacted. And so Tania Singer
start studying compassion and its
relationship to empathy. And what she’s discovered
is that empathy is a necessary precondition
for compassion. We need to be able to feel
another person experience. We need to be able to get– get it at some level,
but just enough not that we’re absorbing it
and taking all of it in. That when that happens,
there’s two possibilities– we could just allow that
pain to be absorbed, and then we go into
empathic distress. Our bodies start acting. We release cortisol
in our system. And that leads to
things like poor health. Our immune system goes down. We have a harder time sleeping. Emotional regulation
is more difficult. We’re more irritable. We’re less present
to our loved ones. Is this ringing a bell? This is compassion fatigue. This is burn out. And if we’re in
there long enough, then our protective systems
kick in protective systems like, I’m going to avoid this pain. I’m going to numb
myself out when I go back into that situation. I’m going to hope that I
get some other pick when I don’t have to go on those
rounds in that particular ward. We’re going to withdraw. We’re going to recede. We might attack people. We might start getting
into fix-it mode, just to make it
all go away so we don’t have to face it anymore,
none of which are compassion. It’s our own
protectiveness to escape the distress of our empathy. Compassion, on the other hand,
is a completely different affective experience. And the evolutionary
value is that it saves us. It’s an antidote to
empathic distress. That when we start to
take on someone’s pain, we can activate a
warm, loving regard towards a person
that feels completely different than taking
on their distress. We can pay attention to
the other with clarity, and be aware of the meaning
and the experience of them not confusing it with our own. Compassion, then, is a capacity
that it opens up an intention to want to ease their
suffering in some way, but out of a
prosocial motivation. And in a way that’s not
attached to the outcome. We’re going to offer
our care, but we don’t know what’s going to happen. They may die. They may not get out of prison. But that does not
disable us from our compassionate resources. So she has an article called
“Compassion Fatigue or Empathic Distress Fatigue?” The gift that is
offered to caregivers is to not just cultivate
the capacities of empathy, but to transform that
empathy into compassion. And when we do that, the
empathy levels of our brain are stabilized. Our cortisol levels relax. We’re able to feel
grounded again, not swept up in the
pain of the moment. We develop a resiliency
of being able to be aware of our own
reactivities, but also be able to set them aside
and tend to them later. And then we can focus our
attention on the other, and activate a warm, loving
regard that is restorative. We call that breathe,
bracket, and behold. When we’re taking on too much
pain or we’re too activated, just breathe. Let me just catch my breath. Let me restabilize. Let me bracket. Let me be aware, OK,
something is going on in me. I’m going to need to
attend to this when I meditate after this is over. I’m going to bracket it for now. And then behold the other,
put our attention on them, and truly pay attention to their
experience and their meaning, while activating a
loving regard that’s just sending a warm energy
of care towards these people. Tania Singer has discovered
that that kind of energy is restorative. We get tired at the
end of a day of that, but it’s the exhilarating tired
of after a going on a long run, or making music, or
dancing, or creating art. It’s a weariness that
feels exhilarating. That we do need to sleep and
tend to our bodies, of course. But our resiliency
comes back quickly because our resources have
been sustained as opposed to being fatigued and burn out. So she suggests
compassion is restorative, which may make a lot of sense
to us because as we remember places where we embody that
kind of compassionate care– when I’m in that
lobby of the hospital, when I’m standing around
that circle of care with my mother-in-law, when I’m in
the car with an 11-year-old boy– I’m in touch. I’m connected to the sources of
compassion that inspire my work and sustain me in
the first place. I’m aligned with that energy
that is personally restorative. I am plugged into some sacred
energy of cosmic compassion that permeates through our
world and is flowing through us, offering persons
a little glimpse of that infinite compassion
that sees it all, holds it all, and sustains us all through it. That’s why we do what we do. OK. So I have some time
for a little dialogue. Any questions, and responses–
or curious how this resonates, or– Hi. Thank you so much for
your presentation. I noticed that many of your
stories include children– babies, small children,
up through middle school, high school age. And I wonder if you
have any thoughts of what we can
learn from, perhaps, having a childlike mind,
or childlike perspective, and able to access
certain emotions, or streams of caring,
or openness in our work? Yeah, yeah. Well, I think, I
mean, we’re wired for compassion and connection. And it’s natural and
available for young children, unless they’ve been
wounded along the way. And we all are
wounded in some ways. And then some of us are
wounded in much deeper ways, and those capacities
are much more difficult. But children seem to have
that capacity to be able to access that rather quickly. And part of it also is the
defensive protective mechanisms are not as fully
entrenched either. So that when those kick in,
and they– of course, they do. I mean, children get upset. And they can have their
say, and sit for a second, and then it’s, OK, I’m done. And I’m ready to go play again. So they’re able to kind
of recalibrate quickly. And we have a lot to learn about
that kind of capacity, yeah. Leslie can you– yeah. I echo the thanks for this
wonderful presentation. I find myself thinking about
developmental capacity, and the ability
to do that nuance. Distinguishing between
empathy and compassion is something that is
a skill set, actually. And that a lot of what
you’re talking about, and probably what
your training is, and a lot of what we try
to do in things like CPE and reflective education
is developing that capacity to notice what’s
going on inside– similar with internal family
systems– see the parts and then figure out
what you’re going to do with those parts or
those or that incredibly powerful empathic
reaction, that capacity to choose how to use it, right? And I think children are
wide open to the world in that beautiful way. And then the task of
adulthood is figuring out how to manage that
open-heartedness, to use it to not be hurt
by it, which happens, or to choose to
be impacted by it. So I just found
myself thinking about that this is kind of
higher order stuff. And yeah, so that’s what
was going on in my mind as you were speaking. Yeah, yeah. Thank you, thank you. Yeah, it really resonates
with my experience, too. I mean, these are skills. These are muscles
that can be developed. And for the work
that we do, they are some of the most
essential muscles to develop– to teach ways
that we, when we are activated, to be able to get grounded
again and restabilized, and tend to our
own internal needs, and be able to access
our resources for others. And those are all practices. There are spiritual
practices that help do that, and emotional practices. There are also practices
for children, too. I mean, emotional intelligence,
and emotional awareness, and helping children
be able to, when they are feeling
an emotion, take that little moment in their
own way to be reflective. OK, so what are you feeling? Can you point to it? And OK, this is anger, or this
is excitement, or whatever. And we’re cultivating in a
developmentally appropriate way the same types of thing. And also practices
for children that can cultivate
compassion for others, and you know perspective taking. So yeah, that really resonates. Leslie? Yeah. [? Ching ?] [? Ding ?] has
a question right behind you. [INAUDIBLE] Thank you so much
for being here. I was curious about your story
about coming off the plane and getting the voicemail. When you described the U-turn. I feel like sometimes I
have two responses when I do that U-turn. One is that I kind of
stew in the feeling, and I don’t actually
get anywhere– I just kind of stew. And then the other is I
acknowledge the feeling, but then I quickly– it becomes managing
it so that I can get whatever I need done,
done, neither of which feel like what you described
where your needs were genuinely met. So I’m curious how do you
balance being proactive but not stewing? I don’t know. Yeah, what an
insightful awareness of your own internal
process, right? So that’s right. That’s different than
what I’m talking about, but it happens all the time. So I can have this
feeling of groaning. And if I take the U-turn– if I’m just groaning and
stewing in that, then I’m just I’m just doing that. I’m just spinning my
wheels around in the mud. And so the practice, the skill
that we’re invited to develop is that capacity to be
able to step back from– kind of internally step
back from the emotion and develop more contemplative
awareness of the emotion, kind of like what
mindfulness might do. And it takes some work. There’s a lot of
little tricks that we might do around doing that. We might just kind of
breathe for a moment. We might just kind of
feel ourselves in a chair, and just kind of get
ourselves stabilized. We might try to imagine that
anger or whatever as a color, or as a little child. And we might place it over here. We might get a little object. We might draw it. There are all kinds
of little tricks that we might do to help us
get a little bit of distance, a little separation so
that I can have the emotion but I not am the emotion. And so that is absolutely
one of the prerequisites or one of the skill sets
that we’re invited to do, so that I could quickly kind of
recalibrate when that happens. And as you notice,
once I do that, OK, so I’ve got this there’s
groan that doesn’t want to take care of my sister. OK, I could be aware of that. I’m not in it anymore. Then the question is–
am I in my best self? Am I in a place where I
really am open to hearing, what that groan, what the
cry is underneath that? Or has another part taken over? A part that wants to
manage it, make it go away. And so I do and other internal
barometer check– am I really open to hearing the cry? Well, no. To be honest, I wish
it would just go away. I wish it would
just leave me alone. I got to do what I got
to do as a big brother. OK, so now I’m
spiraling in another one of those inner energies. So I got to do the same thing. Let me take a little
step back from that one. OK, so we got two here
that are going on– until I find myself
kind of backing into that grounded
contemplative awareness that is genuinely open to hearing both. And then they’re willing to
relax a bit because now they’re not being managed
or just acting out. And what is underneath
them can begin to surface if we hold
them long enough. So it’s a practice,
yeah, but that’s spot on. Well, I have to lead us
all in giving our gratitude and thanks to Frank. [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING]

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