Thoughts on Compassion

I had the really good fortune of taking a class that transformed my understanding of what it means to be a human being and don’t say that lightly. The class was offered by McKinnon School of Massage and was called Touch and Trauma and was taught by Craig Toonder, MFT. I left the class with the conviction that not only every bodyworker should take this class, but every person – teacher, parent, spouse, sibling, police officer (and especially police officers). The class raised a central question for me. If we had a deeper understanding of how and when trauma expresses through human bodies could we more meaningfully support individual healing and community health?

In one of the first exercises we broke up into pairs and asked to touch our partner with three different intentions – an intention to fix, indifference, and compassion. We first asked our partner where they would like us to place our hand. We then placed our hand on that part of the body and held one of the above intentions without revealing which one. I found I wasn’t able to distinguish between my partner’s indifferent touch and intention to fix touch (I’ll save that exploration for another day, but it’s interesting to think about how an intention to fix/help could be experienced as indifference). What I noticed with these two touches was a specific awareness of the touching hand and the part of my body – my shoulder in this case – being touched. When my partner’s touch held the intention of compassion I did not notice the hand or my shoulder, but became aware of my whole body. And so I’m thinking these days about how compassion holds a person differently from pity, sympathy, empathy, judgement. How that holding allows for the person to feel their wholeness. What might be if we saw and touched with a compassion that held the whole of who people are?

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