Newsletter #23 Caring vs Compassion

One of the more common difficulties that physicians, healthcare providers, and care-givers fall into is not understanding the difference between caring and compassion. If you think about the word “caring” it implies a reaching out towards another being with the intent to be helpful. Along with this “reaching out”comes an energetic extension of your being……meaning, you are literally extending your “self” or energy far out from your body. You can visualize this as your energy field moving away from you into space, to interact with another energy field. While of course this is laudable, at the same time this makes your energy field susceptible to other influences which may be in the vicinity.

To an energy vampire (see Newsletter #21), this is like ringing the dinner bell: “Come and get it!” Given the ability of energy vampires to instinctively tap into this open invitation, you are, unwittingly, announcing that your energy is out there and available. Are you sure you want to do that?

Another way to visualize this, in a more physical way, is by understanding one of the principles of tai chi. As an example, we are taught to appreciate our movements from a place of balance. More specifically, this means that we need to be aware of how our knees are bent in the performance of the motions in which one “form” morphs into the next in the stylized dance that is tai chi. If one’s knees are bent too far, in any movement, one is off balance. From a martial art perspective, that means you can be thrown or tossed easily by a practitioner who can perceive your imbalance. From a health perspective, it means you have moved your energy off of the base from which the flow of energies arises, and you are no longer moving energy through your body in a healthy way.

This is not to say that “caring” is bad, or bad for you. Rather, it is to suggest that the virtue of “compassion” is a healthier place to come from.Compassion allows us to appreciate the difficulties or sufferings that another being is experiencing and to interact with them with that understanding. But it does not require extending our energy field away from our bodies so that can become compromised. It allows us to remain in balance while at the same time to appreciate what another being is going through and to act accordingly—–to be of help by tuning in what that being needs, and providing it to the best of your ability without losing your “self” in the process. Note how different this from the usual response to finding a friend in distress and immediately going into: “You poor dear! What can I do?” which opens you up to being drained and depleted in a way that may not be of real help to your friend. Learning to “care” without extending yourself into territories that you become vulnerable is central to being able to provide a healing response. If you will reflect on the often used phrase “Give ‘til it hurts!”, does that really make sense to you? Not only does it sound painful it doesn’t even sound reasonable. Perhaps we should be thinking about this as “over-caring” to go along with the “over-sharing” referred as TMI orWTMI (Too Much Information or Way Too Much Information).

In many traditions, one way of describing this is to realize that YOU are not doing the healing, but allowing healing energies, hopefully divinely inspired, to come through you, but not from you. Otherwise you will be constantly drained and exhausted. When patients are improving, it is a temptation to take credit for that (our egos love it). For many years I have used the phrase with my improving patients: “God heals. I just work here,” as a way of clarifying for the patient (and myself) these dynamics.