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Compassion Week in Houston

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Pam Lewis

FILLING HOUSTON WITH COMPASSION Pam Lewis, the president of the nonprofit network Compassionate Houston, says that practicing compassion has changed the way she sees other people and relationships.

Compassion is permeating Houston this week.

Kristin Neff, a self-compassion pioneer and author of Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself who teaches frequently at The Jung Center in Houston, tells us to, “Give yourself the same caring support you’d give to a good friend.” Learning how to do that is what Compassion Week is all about.

Compassion Week, sponsored by the nonprofit network Compassionate Houston, takes place this week, through April 28. Programs are being offered around the city encouraging Houstonians to cultivate compassion – for themselves, through workshops and lectures, and for others, through service activities that turn compassion into action.

Several years ago, Pam Lewis, a retired licensed professional counselor, got involved in the compassionate movement and training programs. She now serves as president of Compassionate Houston.

“Since I retired,” she says, “I go to Insight Meditation Houston. Practices there are partially focused on compassion, and that was my first introduction to filling your heart with compassion for someone. It was mind-boggling.”

Pam heard that Reverend Betty Adam of Christ Church Cathedral, founder of Compassionate Houston, would be teaching a class in Cultivating Compassion Training. “I contacted her to join the class,” Pam says, “but she told me the class was full. I really refused to take no for an answer. Finally, we had lunch, and she said she would let me into the class. It was the most wonderful experience because it was even more in-depth than what I had been exposed to. Once it was over, she asked me to join the board [of Compassionate Houston].

“It’s hard to explain, but it’s sort of like [compassion training] brought into my consciousness something that wasn’t there before that has to do with the interdependence of all of us. Even if I had thought of it, it was in an intellectual way. The practices brought it into the emotional and personal levels.”

The “practices” that Pam refers to begin with picturing someone it’s easy to feel compassion for – a spouse, a parent, a child. “You hold that person in your mind and get in touch with your wishes for them,” Pam says. “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be at peace. May you be free from harm. Then you slowly develop that for yourself, which is a little harder.” In time, the idea is to expand your compassionate thoughts to people you don’t know – someone you see on the street or at the grocery store. “You extend that feeling to them. And from there, you think of people who are very challenging to you.

“I thought of one person who was very difficult for me to be around,” Pam says. “I used him as the object and realized that, just like me, he wants to be happy and healthy. Holding him in that view and saying the words to him in my mind. Finally, by the end of the training, you do that with people you couldn’t imagine ever being friendly with – maybe a politician. You can sort of feel your heart opening as you go through that sort of training.”

Pam says that compassionate practice changed her relationship with that difficult person. “I couldn’t believe it the first time we were together after that,” she says. “I not only didn’t bristle at his every word, I looked at him with some sympathy that all the things I was seeing as being unpleasant were really coming from a place of real insecurity. I started seeing him in a more human way. It didn’t make me really want to spend time with him, but the time we spent together was so much more pleasant because I wasn’t internally going, ‘Oh my…’”

This Saturday, April 27, from 1:30-3 p.m. during Compassion Week, Pam will be teaching a 90-minute Introductory Overview to Compassionate Integrity Training at Unity of Houston. See a full schedule of events here. Events are free or with donation request. 

Compassion Week is sponsored by Compassionate Houston, a collaborative partnership of nonprofits founded in 2011 to promote treating others with respect, appreciation for cultural and religious diversity and empathy for the suffering of all human beings. In 2015, Houston was designated a Compassionate City by Mayor Annise Parker, and in 2017, Mayor Sylvester Turner re-affirmed that designation. 

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