Joan Halifax —
Compassion's Edge States and Caring Better

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the bad news and horrific pictures in the world. This is a form of empathy, Joan Halifax says, that works against us. The Zen abbot and medical anthropologist has bracing, nourishing thoughts on finding buoyancy rather than burnout in how we work, live, and care.

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is the Founding Abbot of Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and director of the Project on Being with Dying.

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Inside Compassion: Edge States, Contemplative Interventions, Neuroscience

Joan Halifax speaks about the challenge of caregivers who care for those who are seriously ill. Learn about basic research in neuroscience and psychology on mindfulness, compassion, and the effects of stress on the body.

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Today's podcast spoke to me more than any other in the last six months or so since I've started listening. I've been recovering from the flu, caring for a partner through a minor surgery and recovery, coaching my father through cancer, and lost my 97 year old grandfather on Sunday. I am a social worker/caregiver by training and by heart and I've been struggling with some of the same questions raised. Thank you for having these talks...for bringing your wisdom and perspective to them Krista, I will listen to this one over and over...I found strength I needed.

I am a special education teacher who is always tired, always feeling overwhelmed. The information presented here really help me to step back and look at ways to rest and re-locate the joy in my life. Thanks, Krista!

I immensely enjoyed listening to this podcast and found the part about meditation and impermanence especially poignant. I recently completed a 10 day Vipassana meditation course in Chiba, Japan. This experience of realizing the impermanence of your own body and relating that to the outside world is something I try to do on a daily basis with my meditation practice. This practice has also allowed me to be more present in my own experiences. Keep up the awesome work Krista

Joan Halifax's perspective resonates with mine. I agree the issue isn't compassion fatigue. Instead it is the disconnection that we have from the contexts of pain, suffering, grief and death that others experience.

When we see images on television that move us to either compassion or sorrow, we are not doing so in the context where we are wholly given to a process where our feelings can have an outlet that brings some kind of resolution.

Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk, at the beginning of No Man Is An Island, wrote, "The gift of love is the gift of the power and the capacity to love, and, therefore, to give love with full effect is also to receive it. So, love can only be kept by being given away, and it can only be given perfectly when it is also received."

When we emotionally connect with global situations like Darfur or Newtown, there is a disconnection that can add to our own sense of sorrow.

It is important to remember that we are whole beings who need whole relationships, and the possibilities of mutuality to be present to be fully able to care. This is one of our great human challenges that I see.

I just undertook a two-day drive with this podcast as my main companion. It contains so much insight that I had to listen three or four times over just to believe what I was hearing. Though I am a very enthusiastic fan of the series, this episode was startling in its resonance. Thank you.

This was a fabulously insight-provoking show... there's a lot to work with here, with new 'tools' to explore some of our deepest, most difficult emotions. I am forwarding the podcast link to several friends who are going through a tough time with grief and anticipatory grief, and to a couple people who are extremely empathic. Great concepts to digest to help with being more present and more comfortable with feeling the pains inherent in love -- without succumbing to the protective impulse to hold back a little -- thank you so much!

My husband, Gary, of 40 years of marriage passed away less than 2 months ago. Every Sunday morning we would lie in bed listening to your show, drinking coffee and staring out at the new day outside the window. This one with Joan Halifax sounded like a good one for today as I grieve the loss of Gary. Thank you so very much for the meditation, Joan. I have downloaded it and will listen to it often. I feel my sorrow is so deep, so irreversible, so life changing and I am so alone. But I am not. Thank you, Krista, for the many years of in-depth soul searching you guided Gary and me by. While my soul feel so very unsure of anything right now, you give me courage to dare to believe that I will heal.

Your post here was very touching. I too lie in bed Sunday mornings listening to Krista, enjoying the morning sunshine streaming through our windows. My wife and I have enjoyed her shows for years. You are never alone when you reach out as you did by writing. The community you reached I am sure are touched by your loss as I was. I wish you the best in the days to come and hope you will enjoy the morning sun once again.

Patricia, your loss will, as you know, leave you totally changed. The heartbreak may come at you like the waves of the ocean, opening you and tearing open an already aching heart over and over again. I've been through this ,and what can happen is that this creation itself (which is alive) will use the situation to ask you, "are you willing to totally surrender." mother-of-us-all may ask you, during your normal meditation time, "are you willing to come into my heart." And if you say yes, you'll sit in the heart of this world. It's most wonderful and you're surrounded by love, but not human love, rather unconditional love. And you're also sitting next to the heartbreak which exists in the heart of this creation. It's a paradox. But the mother-of-us-all can use her heartbreak to wipe out yours. It can leave you depleated and exhausted, but also infused by the unconditional love that grows the trees. And then Trungpa's statement will come alive, "Be able to hold the sorrow of the world in your heart, while never forgetting the great eastern sun." May your Gary's undying love go with you. May peace be with you. namaste

Patricia, your loss will, as you know, leave you totally changed. The heartbreak may come at you like the waves of the ocean, opening you and tearing open an already aching heart over and over again. I've been through this ,and what can happen is that this creation itself (which is alive) will use the situation to ask you, "are you willing to totally surrender." mother-of-us-all may ask you, during your normal meditation time, "are you willing to come into my heart." And if you say yes, you'll sit in the heart of this world. It's most wonderful and you're surrounded by love, but not human love, rather unconditional love. And you're also sitting next to the heartbreak which exists in the heart of this creation. It's a paradox. But the mother-of-us-all can use her heartbreak to wipe out yours. It can leave you depleated and exhausted, but also infused by the unconditional love that grows the trees. And then Trungpa's statement will come alive, "Be able to hold the sorrow of the world in your heart, while never forgetting the great eastern sun." May your Gary's undying love go with you. May peace be with you. namaste

This is my first comment on a radio show. ever. Roshi Halifax never quite answered your question about the complement to grief. Wouldn't that be love? There's is no grief without love, no love without grief... From the small grief of seeing my daughter off on a long flight to the deep grief surrounding my mother's long illness and death, one thought help-- "it would be worse if I felt nothing." The prospect of grief inevitable is a shadow that gives depth to today's joy, the the dark rounding "umami" of love -- and experience, Thank you.

I am an oncology nurse and practice Buddhism. There is always much talk amongst oncology nurses about compassion fatigue, thank you for a much needed re-thinking of the concept.

I'm a professional fireman and paramedic in Washington, DC, and caught the tail end of this show while driving home from work this morning. Her comments on working to find an end to sorrow and grief hit home hard for me, along with her comments on the pressurized nature of our media and how it can cause hopelessness. My internal vocabulary has long been subject to attrition over the years due to avoidance through alcohol use, personal hardening, and a deep struggle with feeling as if I have failed the Buddhist ideals I was so in love with before seeing such a massive amount of suffering on such a regular basis. This show was well timed for me and reawakened me to vehicles for health and change that I had obscured for myself.

The program today had me think about and take some time to reflect...as to what would Roshi Joan Halifax say, no pun intended…about how we face the challenges of living with our imperfections. Progress, yes, not perfection as the goal. Yet, here I am harkening back…to your shows original…title, 'Speaking of Faith', and reflecting on my family, friends ( and a colleague facing grief in it’s ever present form) that calls for faith and hope for positive change and coping with hurt and pain. Thank you, Krista and Joan for your wisdom and willingness to share your knowledge for expanding my sense for compassion. I will share the show with family, friends and colleagues.

Listening to this podcast now. I loved the Pierre Teilhard de Chardin quotation that the guest referenced, but cannot find it online to save my life. Does anyone know where I can find the original? (I'm assuming she paraphrased a bit.) Thanks!!

Trent Gilliss's picture

Tara, here is what Joan Halifax said, "It's like Teilhard de Chardin writes about. You know, the more aware we become, the more responsible we recognize we are for what is and what will be."

It seems like a broad paraphrase of an idea, but it may stem from something specific. I'll put the question out to our audiences online and see if we can get any leads for you.

For Krista : Trungpa said, "Be able to hold the sorrow of the world in your heart, while never forgetting the great eastern sun." So I keep coming back to this, because, like you, I am witnessing what's going on. That requires so much time listening/watching/reading media, I get hurt. I get hurt over and over. But the only solution, other than closing the heart, is to bear the sorrow and the grief. I think this part of our human condition is what the buddha was referring to when he first said, "life is suffering." It's normal. It's simply the way it is. But, Krista, we are living in a world that is terribly stressed. We are the premier species, and we have dropped the ball. So the heart of this world is suffering. So perhaps Trungpa was pointing something a little more than we think. Perhaps the "sorrow of the world" also refers to the heartbreak that exists in the heart of this (living) creation. So sorrow/grief overload is dangerous. But there is help from BOTH the great eastern sun and the mother-of-us-all. Unconditional love is what grows the trees. Bless You namaste

For Krista : Trungpa said, "Be able to hold the sorrow of the world in your heart, while never forgetting the great eastern sun." So I keep coming back to this, because, like you, I am witnessing what's going on. That requires so much time listening/watching/reading media, I get hurt. I get hurt over and over. But the only solution, other than closing the heart, is to bear the sorrow and the grief. I think this part of our human condition is what the buddha was referring to when he first said, "life is suffering." It's normal. It's simply the way it is. But, Krista, we are living in a world that is terribly stressed. We are the premier species, and we have dropped the ball. So the heart of this world is suffering. So perhaps Trungpa was pointing something a little more than we think. Perhaps the "sorrow of the world" also refers to the heartbreak that exists in the heart of this (living) creation. So sorrow/grief overload is dangerous. But there is help from BOTH the great eastern sun and the mother-of-us-all. Unconditional love is what grows the trees. Bless You namaste

Bless you for what you say. There is always hope that things will be better. But is starts within. Remembering and recognizing and then sharing and spreading the intention, word and action.

My husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease a year ago, and I really appreciated your perspective on caring, as it can be very frustrating watching him go down, thinking he can do jobs around the house, but not really managing. Watching him fill in dates in his 2012 calendar thinking it is this year's. Getting lost while out driving. Becoming incontinent. And I love him so much, it hurts. We only married 2 years ago. I can use all the help i can get.

Dear Caregiver, DO get all the help you can! And know that you count too. And the hearts and appreciation of those who has come before are with YOU. So glad you can get & receive help - it's a big job, as those of us who've been there - in physical/mental/spiritual end-of-life situations - KNOW. Experience is the teacher! Yes - a great opportunity to learn, some joy and lots of pain (all sacrifice is), and to the extent possible, the advice is - take care of yourself in little or big ways too. Best of luck as you take each day, hour, minute at a time.

Sunday morning at 6 am has suddenly become a welcoming and sane place as I listen to your show on WUNC in Chapel Hill.
Thank you so much.

Richard

Great show wonderful helper she is. To the question on how to start with a little stress control practice I thought the answer would be the most evident - breathe.

My husband of 38 years died four months ago, a sudden death! Within one hour and a half my life when from ordinary to extraordinary. Today's show touched a deep core ! Thank you! Thank you for validating my sorrow, my sadness and my grief!

apples