The Science of Compassion: Nature Vs. Nurture & How SuperHero’s are Born

got-compassion-edit

What’s your most important goal/s?

What is the legacy you wish to leave behind?

Why does it matter so deeply?

Are you living your purpose?

How will you overcome the obstacles?

How can we answer these questions with sincerity, mindfulness and compassion and proceed with integrity?  While at the same time setting in motion the steps towards personal transformation?

It all starts with letting go of the fear and establishing a greater connection with ourselves, our values and our beliefs towards personal change.  In my own personal journey this is a two pronged path – one deeply rooted in the wisdom of ancient energy healing and meditation/movement practices and the one deeply engrained in the nature of the science and my obsession with Darwinian Theory. They both hold powerful portals to better understanding my own internal GPS, my position in the world, and my relationship to time and purpose. In my own process of what Brene Brown called “Gremlin, Ninja, Warrior Training” my personal resilience to suffering, (dis)ease, (heal)th, and stressful life challenges all stems from a greater understanding of my brain (even though pea like in mass), my relationship to time and my ability to always put compassion as the underlining foundation of my overall value system.

Train Your Brain:

Our understanding of the incredible power of the human brain and what it is capable is at an all-time high, in both the fields of science, as well as movement mechanics and energy healing. These new emerging fields of neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, and psychophysiology are opening new possibilities for greater health, happiness, and freedom from suffering, as well as a deeper understanding of our connection to the world, to technology and  the ever evolving fields of innovation.

This connection to the organ that is responsible for taking a third of our caloric daily intake; is even opening up connections to our brain’s biochemical and biological make-up with the current research in compassion and empathy.  A few months ago I wrote on the topic of “compassion” and how our brain is wired to be empathetic towards others – humans and the world around us. We see this not only in the homosapein sphere, but in our animals as well.

The vagus nerve (or wandering nerve) is one of the most important nerves in our body. This nerve carries axons of type GVE, general visceral efferent, which provides parasympathetic innervation to glands of mucous membranes of the pharynx, larynx, organs in the neck, thorax, and abdomen, and all our skeletal muscle, as well as our aortic body and arch (known as our heart). The Vagus nerve is the biological building block of human compassion, because it’s connected to everything in our structure.

Since the dawn of time, we have been led to believe that humans are selfish, greed is good because it brings power and power rules the world. Altruism is an illusion and cannot be attained in our lifespan. Cooperation is for suckers and kumbaya singing hippies. Competition is natural, survival of the fittest.  War is inevitable. The bad in human nature is stronger than the good. And so on.

These kinds of claims have reflected age-old assumptions about emotion and who we are as a species. For over millennia, we have regarded emotions as the fount of irrationality, baseness, weakness and at times sin. Nothing good can come from being over emotional.  Hell, the idea of the seven deadly sins takes our destructive passions for granted and splays them out for all to witness.

Yet, biology tells us something different and it begs us to look at another age old question; which is are we a buy product o f“Nature or Nurture.” Usually it’s a little of both.

What if we have been looking through the wrong lens? What if perhaps, we have just led our brains down the wrong path, trained them wrong.

What if we chose to look at it this way: we were born into this world with pure love and joy and through the struggles of our ages, we “dis”evolved to believe that we are all alone, we have to fend for ourselves, etc. What if we accepted that this all crap propaganda and in fact –  This is “nurture” NOT “nature.”  These “beliefs” are learned skills, and thoughts, not our actual biological blueprint and thus – a new door opens.

FACT: The brain has neuro-plasticity and can be re wired to think and act in ways that benefit humanity and personal power. Ways that align with a more compassionate way of living. This is nature AND nurture.

The brain, as we know from research seems wired up to respond to others’ suffering—indeed, it makes us feel good when we can alleviate that suffering, dispelling the so called ideology that “all humans are selfish.”

At Princeton University a study was done on children and victims of violence – and what they found was astonishing. Take these two very different subject demographics and we find they are united by the similar neurological reactions they provoke when asked to contemplate harm to others. This consistency strongly suggests that compassion isn’t simply a fickle or irrational emotion, but rather an innate human response embedded into the folds of our brains – this is “nature.”

In a recent Ted Talk called “How to Make Stress Your Friend” McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others. Dr. McGonigal reveals these startling findings—including the clinically supported methods for training the mind away from default states and negativity that no longer serve us and establishing behaviors and attitudes aligned with our highest values and aspirations.

As the world’s wisdom traditions teach and science is now verifying, our lives are in fact defined by constant change, when we can understand our biological and biochemical make up are rooted in connection, and compassion and that when we reach out to others we improve our health. Now, doesn’t that make you feel a bit better about your health?

time

How about TIME?

Are we there yet? How often have each of us asked this in our lifetime.

I recently taught at a workshop in Salinas California called “The Evolution Power Pack” held at Wolf Fitness Systems;  a movement based smorgasbord of modules designed to use the power behind movement sophistication and physical challenges designed to evoke connecting with our personal power and introspectively ask ourselves the above questions we are now pondering in this article.

In the first module; Shane Heins, founder and owner of “Dare to Evolve,” opened with a profound statement that set the tone for the rest of the weekend. His booming voice asked the participants; “this weekend I ask you to deeply reflect upon the idea of time, we know that we cannot change time, but we can choose to change our relationship to it.”

The ultimate ideology behind Shane’s module “Clubbell Hero Evolution” outlined immense room for each of us to embody transformation through goal setting and in his follow up blog to the attendees he showcased the importance of what it means to “Participate or Contribute.” Here is a short excerpt from his blog:

There is a fine line between Participate and Contribute. That difference resides in the choice you make.

When we participate:

  • we are there, but it does not necessitate that we be “present”.
  • we need only take part, not take whole
  • we are in a position to receive without having to give.
  • we can do so without commitment

When we contribute:

  • we invest wholeheartedly in what lies before us
  • we give of ourselves honestly to exploring the process
  • we step forward with the courage to share the best part of ourselves with each other
  • we value all present
  • we are grateful for all involved

The physical realm has always been a vehicle for me to process, transform, change, shift and evolve by challenging the very fabric that makes up my innate value structure. When I excel physically at my sport, when I become stronger, faster, more nimble – all spheres of my life flourish. I feel more balanced.

Personally, it brought up the question of patterns for me. What patterns do I accept and acknowledge in my own life that require change? What lessons am I learning or repressing, or more importantly what patterns am I repeating that no longer serve me? Am I holding onto fear, and if so why? What is my relationship to time?

You see, when we move, we release tension, we feel energized, we feel free and science shows that the biochemical response to movement increase the good chemicals and hormones like serotonin, endorphins; both of which reduce our automatic stress response.  This makes us feel good, thus what we do physically (you can call it exercise, a movement meditation), is a metaphor for life.

Therefore, if we honor our emotions and train our brain to see that the science that nature has designed for us, we will see we are wired to be compassionate – that good will always prevail over evil, greed and power.

Yet, feeling compassion is one thing; acting on it is another. We can see and now understand the human propensity for compassion and science has shown us the effects compassion can have on behavior and to the relationship to the world around us, but can we actually cultivate compassion, or is it all determined by our genes?

At Berkeley, Dacher Keltner  wrote in his article called “the Compassion Instinct;” “Recent neuroscience studies suggest that positive emotions are less heritable—that is, less determined by our DNA—than the negative emotions. Other studies indicate that the brain structures involved in positive emotions like compassion are more “plastic”—subject to changes brought about by environmental input. So we might think about compassion as a biologically based skill or virtue, but not one that we either have or don’t have. Instead, it’s a trait that we can develop in an appropriate context. What might that context look like? It is based on our values, ethics, and belief systems.”

The Positive and Negative of Stress:

And what about stress? In the hustle and bustle of city life, stress has become a way of life. If you aren’t stressed, you must not be working hard enough, right? You can’t possibly succeed if your knuckles are bleeding, or sporting the external or internal wounds of a great battle….right?  Wrong! If you are stressed, you are one day closer to death. How about that for a bold statement – and it’s true.

In the Ted Talk “How To Make Stress Your Friend;” one study “tracked 1000adults in the US ranging in ages form 34 to 93. They were asked two questions? How much stress have you experienced in the last year? They also asked how much time have you spent helping out neighbors, family, friends, and people in your community?  And then they used public records to find out who died.

Now for the bad news:  for every major stressful experience you have (like really stressful) this increases the risk of dying by 30%.  BUT, that wasn’t true for everyone; people who spent time caring for others showed no increase in stress related dying in bio markers. The catalyst – caring created resilience. How we think, and how we act transform how we use stress. When we choose to view our stress response as helpful, we create the biology of courage and when we choose to connect with others under stress, we create resilience.

Stress gives us access to our hearts – a compassionate heart, one of joy, love and appreciation for others. This gives us strength and energy. And thus, we make a pretty profound statement – we say to ourselves that we CAN face life’s challenges and that we do not have to do it alone.

Recently, I met someone who has had a growing impact on my life and my ability to create greater resiliency to stress and he reminded of this amazing poem called the invitation, and now in closing, I leave it with you.

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The Invitation

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Sources:

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About RUN4ACAUSE

I am what you would call a freelance do’gooder of all things bucketlist and philanthropically inclined. (a) Movement & Performance Coach (a) Social Crusader (a) Wannabe Superhero (a) Athlete (a) Advocate for Play (a) Compassion Junkie (a) Womens and Youth Activist (a) runner'of a' muck (a) Chief Fascia Facilitator (Yoga Teacher and MyoFascia Enthusiast) So, here it is, my BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) TO RAISE $1 MILLION DOLLARS before the age of 35! This is no small 'feet' to take on... A 10 year passion project; by which I harness the power behind the sports philanthropy movement by using my own middle of the pack talent - RUNNING! I am the founder of RUN4ACAUSE, and my goal is simple ~ to combine advocacy with sport and the foundation is to bring awareness to the power behind education, the power of our youth and women's economic empowerment worldwide! This blog is an ongoing Story Telling Series of my RUN4ACAUSE, where I aim to showcase the direct impact WE can make by empowering our youth to transform their world; by mobilizing them to engage in cultural exchange, gain a global perspective, and create and lead social change through the art of sport, and by the power of one voice. Imagine the possibilities! I hope this blog leaves you empowered, inspired and MOVED - so why don't you join me and RUN4ACAUSE!
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