Compassion Fatigue

Compassion Fatigue


When the heart is balanced, the rest of the energy body can maintain a greater sense of equilibrium.

Q. My yoga instructor encourages her students to fully open the heart chakra. I’ve been practicing this approach for a couple of years, and it’s dawning on me that perhaps my heart is too wide open. I feel overwhelmed and worn out by the problems in my community and in the world. I’m worried that I’m coming down with a severe case of compassion fatigue. Is there something I can do to protect my heart from all the pain and suffering I witness?

There’s certainly a lot of stress, trauma and suffering in the world. It does seem as though we’re perpetually bombarded with dramatic stories that reflect the difficulties we face in the world.

Joseph Campbell aptly reminds us, “The world is perfect. It's a mess. It has always been a mess. We are not going to change it.”

Campbell’s not counseling us to give up and do nothing. He’s counseling us to be aware, awake, and conscious while acknowledging that the world’s problems are well beyond our pay grade. We can do what we can, on the ground in our communities, nationally through our advocacy and activism and globally through our contributions and communications.

Life can be lived whole-heartedly and fully. Truthfully, we need not be enmeshed in global suffering, leaking our energy and emotion through compassion fatigue. In fact, it is impossible to take appropriate action when the level of suffering we’ve absorbed and carry paralyzes us.

I have actually learned to ignore the advice to open my heart chakra fully, finding that it disturbs my sense of balance and equilibrium. When I function as a ‘bleeding heart’ or I ‘wear my heart on my sleeve’, I am less able to devise appropriate responses to what I experience surrounding me, whether in my neighborhood or in the world at large.

Over time, I’ve learned that it’s more important to cultivate a balanced approach to my life, and that begins with my energy.

Further, I am not a fan of ‘energetic protection’. I know it’s a term that’s bandied about on a regular basis in spiritual circles. However, there’s an important consideration related to the idea of protection. Protection is a defense against. In other words, if I need protection, I feel attacked, vulnerable and defenseless. I’d rather not foster that type of polarity with my energy field. I’d prefer to cultivate balance.

If you think about your heart being the fulcrum of your energy body, it’s the balance point, yes? The lower chakras (first, second and third), are tied to the Earth, and to the implementation of your physical experience. The upper chakras (fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh), beginning with the heart, initiate our energy into the esoteric, spiritual, individuated expression of who we are.

The heart operates as the gateway between our physical and spiritual selves. If the heart is excessively open, it loses the ability to balance the physical and the spiritual. The scales tip in one direction or the other. If the balance skews to the lower chakras, the sense of paralysis emerges. When the balance skews to the upper chakras, there can be a sense of existential and overwhelming despair that overrides the ability to think and choose how to respond.

And it’s absolutely possible to seesaw rapidly between the two polarities, overwhelming despair and the inability to take action.

When the heart is balanced, the rest of the energy body can maintain a greater sense of equilibrium.

Here’s a suggestion for generating balance in your heart chakra:

  • As you tune into your heart chakra, create an intention to be open-hearted, conscious and aware

  • Then imagine setting your heart chakra to 50% open, instead of wide open

  • Notice, imagine, validate, cultivate a sense of balance, knowing that the heart resonates with and integrates the physical and the spiritual aspects of Who You Are

I know this may mean ignoring your yoga instructor’s teaching. You may find that the choice to operate with a more balanced heart chakra enables you to engage, interact, respond and choose with a greater sense of compassion and awareness that your contribution is important and makes a difference.

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