"Love with our whole hearts, even if there is no guarantee." - Brené Brown.
A couple of months ago I wrote about an experience I had in a local coffee shop that, at the time, tested my limits of compassion. What I learned from that experience is that in order for us to live more cohesively in our society, we must open our hearts. We must put ourselves in others' shoes. We must live by the Golden Rule, even if no one else seems to be playing by the same rules.
I think we all instinctively know this, and in fact it's part of the very make-up of our brains. In her new book, "12 Steps to a More Compassionate Life," TED Prize-winner Karen Armstrong describes two areas of our brain: the reptilian brain that most resembles the primitive brain of our ancestors who made those first tentative steps out of the primordial ooze, and the limbic brain that governs the more nurturing aspects of our personality.
The reptile brain is concerned with what neuroscientists call the Four Fs: feeding, fighting, flight and... reproduction, and it is powerful. So powerful that we have to work consciously to offset its often disastrous and violent consequences. But what's amazing and encouraging is that recent neuroscience studies show that we can cultivate and grow the limbic portion of the brain. Armstrong likens it to learning to drive a car, you practice until your brain can do it without conscious thought. You can practice compassion until it comes naturally.
Another TED favorite, Brené Brown, author and professor at the College of Sociology at The University of Houston, has spent the last 10 years researching vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame. In her TEDxtalk (watch video below), she describes the evolution of her research, and how she came to be studying such seemingly strange topics. She started by collecting stories from people from all walks of life and from all cultures. She eventually divided the stories into those of people who had as strong sense of worthiness and belonging and those of people that felt disconnected.
When she looked at what each of these people shared, she realized that the people with a strong sense of worthiness and belonging allowed themselves to be vulnerable. They open their hearts and put themselves out there. They take emotional risks. Brown calls this the "Power of Vulnerability," and the ancient yogis would probably just call this "Of Course."
When we practice yoga, we come to realize that we all walk the same path towards a life of happiness and health. We tap into a part of ourselves that we already know is there, a deep and intrinsic connection to each other and, indeed, all life in the universe. And what Brown mentions in her talk over and over again is that what got our species to this point is connection. Connection is compassion, and we need it now more than ever.