It seems to me right to write something on compassion, as a companion piece to what I was writing on love. Compassion for me is altogether harder to quantify. Some of you may know that I suffered some health problems ten years ago, and have spent time slowly recovering from that. After a stressful period I suffered a breakdown. I was what you call a “voice hearer”, someone who suffers for a certain period from hearing voices but has few other symptoms. The medication prescribed by the medical profession honestly has been more difficult to recover from, than the voice hearing episode itself. For completeness I will say there have been a few other symptoms along the way, some suffering.
In any case, the voice hearing led me onto becoming an expert-by-experience. It involves a training in which you tell your story to a group, with the idea of helping others with your experience. It was one of the purest experiences of compassion I have known. Later on I joined a project for helping others deal with difficult experiences, and spent several years there working with clients. These were people suffering from loneliness, a man who hadn’t been out of his house for 20 years who I started meeting for coffee at a local centre, and a man suffering from bipolar.
Compassion I think comes from acting out of the heart, if I think back to those training sessions there was a tremendous honesty towards yourself and others, an openness, a tackling of difficult emotional subjects which I think is central to the expert-by-experience role. Looking back on the years I did this work it has enriching.