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On this episode of Unlocking Us

I’ve been waiting my whole life to talk to Chris Germer. He is a clinical psychologist and lecturer on psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and he co-developed the Mindful Self-Compassion program with Kristin Neff, which has been taught to 200,000 people worldwide. I recently read an article written by Chris called “The Near and Far Enemies of Fierce Compassion,” and as soon as I read it, I said, “Put him on the podcast list. I’ve gotta talk to him.”

About the guest

Chris Germer

Christopher Germer, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and co-developer (with Kristin Neff, Ph.D.) of the Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) program that has been taught to over 200,000 people worldwide. He is also the author of a popular book, The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, and the co-author (also with Neff) of the professional text Teaching the Mindful Self-Compassion Program and The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. Chris is an MSC Teacher Trainer and leads MSC intensives and workshops around the world.

Chris is also a lecturer on psychiatry (part-time) at Harvard Medical School. He has been integrating the principles and practices of meditation into psychotherapy since 1978. Chris co-edited two influential volumes—Mindfulness and Psychotherapy and Wisdom and Compassion in Psychotherapy—and he is a founding faculty member of both the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy and the Center for Mindfulness and Compassion, Cambridge Health Alliance, Harvard Medical School.

Chris currently divides his time between teaching, writing, clinical practice, consulting on self-compassion research, and supporting the Center for MSC. He maintains a small private practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts, specializing in mindfulness and compassion-based psychotherapy. He is also a committed student of insight meditation and the co-director of the annual Meditation and Psychotherapy conference at Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance.

Show notes

The Near and Far Enemies of Fierce Compassion, by Dr. Chris Germer on Mindfulness Teacher Training

The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, by Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer

Teaching the Mindful Self-Compassion Program: A Guide for Professionals, by Christopher Germer and Kristin Neff

Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, second edition, edited by Christopher Germer, Ronald D. Siegel, and Paul R. Fulton

Wisdom and Compassion in Psychotherapy, edited by Christopher Germer and Ronald D. Siegel, with a foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself From Destructive Thoughts and Emotions, by Christopher Germer

Amazing Grace,” by Willie Nelson




Brené Brown: Hi, everyone. I’m Brené Brown, and this is Unlocking Us. Oh, this is so exciting. I’ve been waiting my whole life to talk to Chris Germer. He is a clinical psychologist and lecturer on psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He co-developed the Mindful Self-Compassion program with Kristin Neff in 2010, and it’s been taught to 200,000 people worldwide. That’s so exciting. We need more compassionate people. I read an article written by Chris called “The Near and Far Enemies of Fierce Compassion.” And as soon as I read it, I’m like, “Put him on the podcast list. Get out the Trello board. I’ve got to talk to him.” It was an incredible conversation. We get vulnerable right from the start. It was just, I don’t know, we were… What do you think?

Barrett Guillen: I loved it.

BB: We were just in the zone. We were in the self-compassion, meditation, sharing zone. I loved it. Yeah, we just talk about really transformative moments in our lives or thin places as I like to call them. The concept of near enemy was such a game changer when I wrote Atlas of the Heart. It actually is going to finally allow me to maybe finish my dissertation research, which I worked on in the back of Atlas of the Heart. We’re going to talk about compassion, what it is, what it isn’t. We’re going to talk about activism. We’re going to talk about really… Yeah, well, you’re laughing.

BG: I’m laughing because in this podcast you talk about that you have a sport mode but not a Buddhist mode.

BB: Oh, I do talk about I have a sport mode, not a Buddhist mode. I need a more Buddhist mode and he’s like, “Oh no, Buddhists have a sport mode too.” I was like, “Oh, thank God. That’s so good.” I’m glad you’re here with us. All right, before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about Dr. Christopher Germer, clinical psychologist and co-developer with Kristin Neff of the Mindful Self-Compassion Program that’s been taught to over 200,000 people. He’s also the author of a very popular book that I love, The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion and co-author also with Kristin Neff of the professional textbook, Teaching the Mindful Self-Compassion Program and the Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. He is a lecturer on psychiatry part-time at Harvard Medical School. He’s been integrating the principles and practices of meditation into psychotherapy since 1978. He co-edited two influential volumes, Mindfulness and Psychotherapy and Wisdom and Compassion in Psychotherapy.

BB: And he is a founding faculty member of both the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy and the Center for Mindfulness and Compassion, the Cambridge Health Alliance Harvard Medical School. Right now, he divides his time between teaching, writing, clinical practice, and consulting on self-compassion research and supporting the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. He maintains a small private practice in Cambridge, specializing in mindfulness and compassion-based psychotherapy. He is also a committed student of Insight Meditation and co-director of the Annual Meditation and Psychotherapy Conference at Harvard Medical School, Cambridge Health Alliance. Let’s jump in. Chris, welcome to Unlocking Us.

Chris Germer: Thank you, Brené. I’m so happy to be here.

BB: Oh, man, I’ve been so excited about this conversation. I’m grateful that you are open to doing a two-parter with us because I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot of questions. But I love to start with our favorite question, which is, tell us your story. Tell us about yourself.

CG: [laughter] How far back do you want to go?

BB: I want to go to the very beginning.

CG: Oh my goodness. [chuckle] My parents are of European origin. My mother is Swiss, father is German. I was raised with three brothers here in the United States in the area around New York. And this was after the war, and we were raised in a Jewish neighborhood, and my parents were sort of clueless about what had happened, how the people in the community would experience us. So I had an early childhood experience of being other. And I think that also contributed to my current interest in compassion. But then I had a pretty ordinary middle-class upbringing and so forth, went to college in Maine. But after college, even though I graduated Phi Beta Kappa and all this, I was basically unemployed the first year. And then I went to Germany, and I was very, very lonely and sort of looking for something. And then I discovered meditation. And during that time, this was back in 1976, I was on a retreat, and I had a mystical experience in which it was almost as if I popped out of my head and I was just immersed in this incredible golden light. And that has become actually for my whole life sort of a guiding light.

CG: So, after that, I went to India for a year and studied with various teachers. And after that, I went to graduate school. Anyhow, it’s a pretty long story, but I’ve spent my whole professional life as a clinical psychologist basically trying to integrate some of this profound contemplative wisdom that I discovered in India with Western scientific psychology. And I’m going to be 70 years old next month. [chuckle] Looking back, you can never really chart what your life’s going to be like, but looking back, that’s what happened. It’s almost like a seed got planted and it just kept growing and growing. And it’s been quite a ride. [chuckle]

BB: Wow. Can you still in a visceral way remember that experience, that light and that moment?

CG: Oh, totally. It was like about three minutes and I don’t actually usually talk about it, but since I know you to be an authentic and curious person, I guess it just came out of my mouth. Yeah. What was it like? You want to look at some details about it or what?

BB: Yeah, if you don’t mind sharing. Yeah, I’m curious.

CG: Yeah, yeah. So, I was on a meditation retreat in the countryside in Southern Germany and it was like the second or the third day in and we were doing transcendental meditation. And I had terrible hay fever. And during one of these 20-minute meditations, I felt like a popping sound like…


CG: And I popped out of the top of my head. That’s the only way I can describe it. And everywhere, 360 degrees was this just vast, vast golden light. And there was like no… There was nothing else. There was no Chris involved. There was like no personhood. And then after about maybe 30 seconds or so, I had a moment of awe, like, “Ah.” There wasn’t even a person there who had awe. There was just astonishment, like a quality, it was almost like duality started to come in. And then that golden light became sort of a void on the lower hemisphere and continued golden on the upper hemisphere. So, this went on a while, but then the most extraordinary thing happened. I heard farmers in the field outside the building I was in talking to themselves as if I was next to them, as I simultaneously heard some people talking to each other in the hallway in the building, it was amazing. And it was all so natural. So, it was almost like awareness didn’t have a place. It was like in two places. And then after that, my body’s… Or my consciousness, whatever, just started going different places, sort of cruising over the countryside. And then somebody in the room rang a bell, which meant your 20-minute meditation is over. And I could see my body in sort of the lower… Like behind me and far, far away. And my awareness just went into the top of my head as if oil going into a funnel, like…


BB: Wow.

CG: And then I looked out of my eyes, and I thought, “Oh, that was nice. Oh, okay. Cool. I guess this is what happens when you meditate.”


CG: And then I spent basically the rest of my life wishing to have that experience. Never happened. But, oftentimes, I suspect that’s also happened to you, Brené, that there’s something in our life that happens that just sort of inspires us for our entire life. And we just never forget it. I don’t know. Have you had an experience that has been kind of your guiding light?

BB: I have. I don’t think about it very often, but I have. I had an experience like that. I don’t even know how many years ago it was. Maybe, I do know, it was probably 16 years ago, and I was in Galway, Ireland. And I went to go meditate before a conference started and I followed this little path of stones. And I got to the top of the path and I was looking for somewhere to sit. And as I was kind of going over things with my eyes, trying to find a flat, dry place to sit in the dewy morning in Ireland, there were probably 30 stones. I still have a picture of it, shaped in a heart, not like a loose heart, but a very specific heart-shaped stone, like sitting area. And it’s so weird, but I meditate a lot to music. And so, I had a Willie Nelson song. I had “Amazing Grace.” I was really into “Amazing Grace,” by everyone who sang it at the time. And I always thought the words to that song, the lyric was, “I was grace that taught my heart to feel, and it was grace my feelings released.

CG: Yeah.

BB: But this was something about the way Willie Nelson sang it that was really clear. It was right in my ears. And I realized at that moment that it didn’t say that, that it said, “It was grace that taught my heart to fear…”

CG: Oh. Yeah. Yeah.

BB: “And grace my fear released.” And I just had a moment that I go back to all the time. Like one of those moments where I was looking around thinking, “Is anyone else seeing this? I need someone else to be capturing this.” But I thought, “Oh God, I’m praying and meditating on a lot of different things. But the bottom of it is I don’t know how to be afraid. I don’t know how to be scared without actually being scary to other people.

CG: Oh, interesting. Interesting.

BB: Yeah. And so, when I’m fearful, I always go back. I close my eyes and I picture that. And it was very… Had some weird Celtic energy to it because you can see the Aran Islands from this spot in Galway. Yeah, so it was just, I guess what I would call it is a thin place. Have you ever heard that saying?

CG: It means there’s just like a veil between you and something deeper. Is that what that means?

BB: Yes. It was a thin place where that veil came up and I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I was sure it was meant for me.

CG: Yeah. I know you’re supposed to be interviewing me, but if I may ask, so how did that realization that you don’t fear without causing fear in others unfold thereafter?

BB: I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it, but I think my whole career has been defined about how to be in vulnerability, how to be in fear, how to move through emotions with awareness that doesn’t create pain and hurt in ourselves or other people. So, it was a very defining moment for me.

CG: Oh, I get it. I get it. Thank you.

BB: So, one of the things I want to talk to you about today that’s very related to this, I want to talk about “The Near and Far Enemies of Fierce Compassion.” And I came across this article and it literally took my breath away. I had to put it down and walk away from it a couple of times.

CG: Oh my.

BB: Yeah. I want to start with, I’ve done social justice work my whole life, I’m a social worker and it’s part of my training and they call this the pause cast, laughingly, because I take a lot of time to think about things, so if you don’t worry about any big pauses, we’re used to them and we leave them in because maybe there’s not enough pauses in the world, I don’t know.

CG: Well, we go deep in pauses and we get real. So please, pauses are not a problem. [chuckle]

BB: I think I want to start with the concept of near enemy. Man, how much has that concept just blown you away?

CG: Yeah. Well, it’s a beautiful concept. It comes from Buddhist psychology, and it really invites discernment between the thing itself and misunderstandings or ways in which we fool ourselves that we are close to the thing itself, but we’re actually off in a way that we’re getting further and further from the thing itself. Far enemies, which is basically the opposite of what you’re talking about, are easy, but it’s the near enemies that require introspection and reflection and care.

BB: Will you teach us a little bit about… It’s my understanding and I’m not versed in this, so please reshape my understanding when necessary, it’s my understanding that this term was first applied and is normally applied to the four immeasurables. Is this a concept in Buddhism?

CG: Yes. Yes. These are heart qualities, heart qualities, the four immeasurables, which is loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. The whole idea of the heart qualities is they’re also known as divine abodes. These are qualities of being which when they manifest inside of us, we experience life in a very beautiful way even if the world hasn’t changed.

BB: Wow.

CG: In other words, if we can walk through this world of duality and suffering with love and with compassion and with equanimity and also joy in the successes of others, we’re really living in a beautiful space in our minds. So, the idea is you cultivate those qualities, and your life gets better, but also as you said before, we’re always going to be in the world in a way that other people’s lives get better. So those are the heart qualities. They’ve only recently been more emphasized in the West. Most of Buddhist meditation, at least the Western style Buddhist meditation, is more about attention and awareness. So, this is a really important balance because let’s face it, we need both. We need awareness and we need love. So, the near enemies help us not to mess it up basically.


BB: They’re tricky. I think they’re very tricky. And I have to say that I did my dissertation on connection. This was probably 22, 23 years ago and it was such an unfinished project, and it’s really bothered me for two decades because I could never explain. I didn’t have the concept of near enemy. I just knew, okay, yes, clearly the opposite of connection is disconnection, but disconnection is not really the greatest threat. It’s not really what unravels things. And then when I came across this concept of near enemy, I was like, “Oh my God, there’s a middle column where it looks like connection, it sounds like connection, but it actually unravels.” Will you talk to us a little bit like… give us some examples? So, the far enemy of compassion, let’s define compassion first. What is compassion?

CG: Well, compassion is love plus suffering. So, when suffering meets love and stays loving, then we have compassion. A moment of compassion is always a kind of mixture between suffering and love, but compassion is also a positive emotion. So, it’s basically… It transforms the experience of suffering into something positive. That’s compassion. So, when love meets suffering and stays loving, that’s compassion.

BB: Wow.

CG: Because often when love meets suffering, it turns into fear, it turns into anger, it turns into disgust, it turns into aversion because we just get overwhelmed. But if we can stay loving, then we have compassion. So compassion is actually a taller order than love because suffering is a challenge to love.

BB: Tell me about the yin and yang of compassion.

CG: Yeah. So, Kristin Neff, my dear colleague who also lives in Texas, she’s been really exploring more than I about the yin and yang of compassion. So often when we think about compassion, we think about nurturing, we think of being with others in a tender way. So that would be the yin side, but that’s clearly not all there is to compassion. Compassion has an action element. Compassion sometimes is quite strong. The metaphor Kristin uses is a mama bear. The mama can suckle her young and she can also defend them fiercely. But if you think about a firefighter that runs into a building to save somebody, this is fierce compassion. It’s action in the world. So it’s sort of the yin and yang of compassion. Ordinarily, we think about nurturing, but compassion can also be tough. So the yin side or the tender side or the being with side is often about comforting and soothing and reassuring and connecting and validating, all of which are beautiful qualities that help us to recover and get strong and have peace. And then the other side is the more fierce side, which involves protecting. This is super important to be able to say no to harm.

CG: The foundation of compassion is really non-harm. So that’s a yang side quality. Protecting, providing. In order to provide for ourselves and others, we need to know what they need or what we need, our core values, what nourishes us. If we don’t know what nourishes us, we can’t be compassionate with ourselves, and we don’t know what other people need. We just give them stuff they don’t want. That’s not compassionate. And then also motivating. Sometimes people think if you’re being compassionate with yourself or compassionate to others, you’re just going to say, “Oh, well, whatever you want.” Is it compassionate for a boss at work to let a person just show up every day, even though it’s obviously a miserable job for them and they’re doing it… You need to be able to do things like fire somebody for their own good. Or we also need to motivate ourselves sometimes to do really difficult things that are really good for us.

CG: So those qualities of protecting and providing and motivating are more on the yang side, on the fierce side, on the action in the world side. Together is really what we’re looking for. In other words, a balance. All yin doesn’t work, all yang doesn’t work. But sometimes we need one more than the other. Sometimes we need to create a fence around our garden to protect it so that we can grow. In other words, sometimes we need to start with the fierce or the yang side before the yin. But sometimes we need to start with yin. In other words, we need to nourish ourselves and we need to validate ourselves so that we then have the power to go out into the world and be fierce. We need to kind of sometimes find our core. And that’s more of an introspective yin side. So a balance is what we need.

BB: So, what is the far enemy of compassion? We’ve got compassion as this balance between tenderness and action, between love and suffering, between being with an agency to change. So what’s the far enemy of compassion?

CG: The far enemy of compassion is hostility or hatred.

BB: And that’s pretty clear to recognize, right? It’s pretty clear to recognize.

CG: That’s so crazy. Yeah.

BB: Yeah. But what gets tricky is this near enemy. What’s the near enemy of compassion?

CG: So, there are a variety of near enemies of compassion. So, for example, if you want to take Kristin Neff’s three-part model of compassion, it has three parts. It has mindfulness, which is spacious present moment awareness. And really the opposite of that component of compassion is reactivity, emotional reactivity. So, we may think, for example, that we’re being fiercely compassionate when we lash out at somebody because it feels good or it seems like it’s in the interest of justice, but it’s probably harmful if it’s pure reactivity. So, we could say that at least on the fierce compassion side, the opposite of mindfulness would be reactivity. And then the second quality is common humanity. And we could say far enemy of common humanity would be like demonizing people.

BB: Like dehumanization.

CG: Dehumanization. But a near enemy would be more this kind of gloss that we put over things that we’re all the same.

BB: Ooh, wait a minute. Let me take this down for a minute. So, okay, so we’re talking about compassion and we’re talking about the three pieces that ladder up to compassion, which is… one of them is common humanity. Well, mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness.

CG: And self-kindness is the third.

BB: So, with common humanity, the far enemy of common humanity is dehumanization, which makes sense, right? Common humanity, dehumanization, or demonizing people.

CG: Yeah, precisely.

BB: But this is so powerful. A near enemy, let me just make sure I get this right, a near enemy is a quality that seems to be like the quality that we’re after, but actually undermines it and unravels it.

CG: Precisely.

BB: Corrodes it in a way.

CG: Precisely.

BB: Okay. So, the far enemy of common humanity is dehumanization or demonizing, where the near enemy kind of looks good, feels good, but is dangerous, is oneness or sameness.

CG: Yeah, not oneness, sameness.

BB: Sameness, sameness. Okay, sameness. So, tell me about sameness.

CG: Well, we see this in the social justice field all the time. People who have a lot of privilege, like perhaps white people in the United States, easily say, “Well, we’re all the same. Therefore… ”

BB: Yeah, the colorblindness.

CG: It’s colorblindness. And really, the assumption is that your experience is the same as my experience. And that is profoundly alienating when somebody has had a much different experience, or if they’ve been harmed by the dominant majority. So, the whole idea of common humanity, which refers to the dominant culture is harmful, is hurtful, it’s disrespectful. You’re really not honoring the person you’re talking with. So, it’s a near enemy of common humanity, because it really, really is not the thing. The thing, or the experience of common humanity in a moment of compassion is really knowing. It’s a visceral knowing, it’s a cognitive knowing. It’s a genuine quality of being moved to alleviate somebody’s suffering and doing something about it. It’s real. It’s got traction. And the way you know it is the outcome, the outcome is that there is relief. But anyhow, when we assume sameness, we’re actually causing injury.

BB: Wow. I just want to just… Yeah, this is why I think in my career, in my life, understanding the concept of near enemy has been so powerful, because it is the thing that masquerades as the virtue or quality that we desperately want, that sometimes outside of our knowing even causes so much pain to ourselves and other people.

CG: Yes, yes, yes.

BB: Okay. So emotional reactivity, so the far enemy of fierce compassion, so emotional reactivity versus mindfulness. And what is the near enemy of mindfulness?

CG: That’s also an interesting one. A near enemy is complacency. Complacency. So, mindfulness means a bunch of things. In the West, people often think about mindfulness as present moment awareness. Traditionally, mindfulness is more about balanced awareness or more in the area of equanimity. But some people think, “Oh, I’m so chill, don’t need to do anything or everything’s fine,” i.e., Complacent. That’s why the near enemy of mindfulness when it comes to fierce compassion is complacency. In other words, just not lifting a finger, thinking that, for example, non-action is wise. Sometimes it is wise, but often what we need to realize is that not doing is also doing and is that what you want to do? Right?

BB: Yeah, yeah. Wow. It’s so crazy to me how good this is.

CG: Thank you. This is the brilliance of Buddhist psychology that frankly I’ve been just super interested in integrating into Western scientific psychology. So, I’m especially grateful about your interest. You’ve got the bully pulpit, it’s wonderful that you’re wanting to share this with others, Brené.

BB: Yeah, it’s been life changing for me. And so, I think both your work and Kristin Neff’s work has been a game changer. All right, so the last quality of compassion is kindness.

CG: Yeah. And so, when we think about fierce compassion, if we’re acting in the world then the opposite of that, the far enemy of that would be hostility, but the near enemy would be pity. The near enemy of kindness is pity. So, again, in the social justice area, there are all kinds of really harsh things that we do. There’s a saying, not for me, without me, right? Pity is when we actually feel a distance between those we’re helping and ourselves. And that’s not real compassion. That’s actually separation. And the interesting thing about that too, Brené, is pity is actually a defense against the pain that we feel when somebody is suffering. So, they’re suffering, we feel it as human beings, and then we want to do flight into action or now I’m going to help you, you poor thing. Whenever we say you poor thing or feel that the person we’re helping is other than ourselves, it’s really out of our own fear, out of our own inability to hold it. But the problem arises with the actions that flow from pity because they are also painful. When we do something for somebody in pity, they can feel it and they are diminished by it.

CG: And so, if we want to be compassionate, if we want to think about the near enemies, we really want to do things from a sense of when one person is liberated, we all get liberated. To do it from a position of frankly, common humanity, interdependence, that there’s really nothing that happens to us or that we do that doesn’t affect everybody else. So, I personally think that if we’re going to be working in the social justice field or frankly in any sort of caregiving professions, it’s important not to fall into complacency, not to fall into sameness, and not to fall into pity. And when we do that, we get lifted up too.

BB: Yeah, of course. Yeah, amazingly. But I feel like, and check me here, I feel like our ability to be aware of complacency and rise to mindfulness, to be aware of the myth of sameness and rise to common humanity, to be aware of pity and rise to kindness, in that rising is where love meets suffering.

CG: That’s so fabulous. Oh, the way you said that is just so beautiful. Thank you.

BB: Well, it’s your work. [chuckle]

CG: No, no, no. It’s framed in the inimitable Brené style, which is so elegantly stated. Thank you. It’s about really rising to compassion. And in many respects, we have our feet in sort of concrete and don’t know it. When we look through the eyes of sameness or pity or complacency, we just don’t know we’re stuck. We need sometimes, you might say, the lightning bolt of discrimination or discernment to break up the concrete so we can rise. And as they say, maybe be like angels and take ourselves less seriously.

BB: The way I picture this is I’m on the ground floor and I am so pissed off about something happening in the world. For me the last… Since the 2016 election has been painful on almost a daily basis. George Floyd’s murder, Breonna Taylor’s murder, there’s too many to list, which is just heartbreaking and raging to begin with. And I feel like I’m on the ground floor. And this is what’s tricky for me. And this is why this has been so important is I feel emotionally reactive. My first response is not mindfulness. My first response, I feel emotionally reactive. I feel dehumanizing toward the people that are dehumanizing. And I feel hostility. So, I’m like this ball of outrage and fury and pain. And then I’m like, rise up, Brené, just rise up and think about it. So, then the elevator of compassion goes up and it stops on the first floor. And I’m like, here I am. This is great. But this is ladies lingerie, right? This is the first floor is complacency.

BB: And the first floor is sameness. And then the first floor is pity. And the people at the first floor are like, “Oh, come here. Feel sorry for those people.” Think to yourself, “Well, we’re all the same.” Or, “do you really have to do anything?” And the near enemy floor is like the disco lights are going, it smells like banana nut bread, and I want to get out. But then I’ve got to remember that I’ve got to stay on to the next floor. And that’s hard because the second floor is… that near enemy floor is comfortable for me because it allows me to separate love and suffering. Do you know what I mean? It doesn’t make me do both.

CG: Yep. It’s also a lonely place because it’s not the thing itself. It’s not real compassion. It’s a lonely place. There’s still so much separation in pity. There’s so much separation in complacency. There’s so much separation in the illusion of sameness. It’s a lonely place. It’s not nourishing. We don’t want to stay there too long. But there’s kind of a temporary comfort. [chuckle]

BB: Yeah, it’s a… The only thing enticing for me when the second floor opens and I’m still not at the third floor, I’m just having to do this because these are big concepts and I have to… I’m a metaphor-aholic, bad or good, it doesn’t matter, I’ll ride it to the bitter end. But, and this is what I want to get into in Part 2, there is a default duality to it. There is, in some ways, it’s a sneaky thing when you think to yourself, “Wow, I don’t have to expend the energy to straddle the tension of love and suffering. It will ultimately make me feel alone. It’ll unravel my sense of agency. It will cause profound disconnection.” But for that split second in a world that is so binary, it seems attractive to keep struggle and love separated, for just for a second. Does that make sense to you?

CG: It does. It does. It makes a lot of sense, Brené. Yeah.

BB: Why? I don’t like it when you put struggle and love together.

CG: I think that suffering is just hard to bear, human beings instinctively, we don’t want it. So if we can sort of take a tranquilizer, I don’t know, I don’t want to add too many metaphors to the mix, but if we can numb it in some form, which we do by deluding ourselves, we feel better. Let’s face it, also rage is kind of comfortable. For two seconds, we think we know what’s going on and who deserves what.


BB: For two seconds.

CG: Until the rage passes and then things become very complex. They look very complex. But anyhow, so I do think we will take the easiest route out of not feeling the pain of the world, but it’s not a resting place. In my view, the resting place is in genuine compassion, where we’re really touching suffering, where we can feel it, and where the heart breaks open. It’s not something we can really think about, it’s only one thing we can do. We make ourselves available to feel what’s feelable, and then the heart breaks open, and then compassion or forgiveness, it rains down on us like mercy. It’s not something we can grab, it’s only something we can create a context for. Anyhow, that’s really where the richness is. That’s where the healing is for everyone. We don’t want to get lost in anything else, I don’t think.

BB: God, that’s so beautiful. Okay. We’re going to stop here. So much to think about. So much for me to lay out and pray over. It’s really helpful. Chris, I’m so grateful. It’s really helpful. We’ll pick up with Part 2. I have another whole slew of questions I want to talk about in Part 2, whether you think some level of anger can exist within fierce compassion. So, we’ll come back to that. Thank you.

CG: Thank you. Really loving this conversation. Thank you so much, Brené. Thank you for who you are.

BB: Thank you for who you are. I like that. I’m so glad you all joined us for this conversation. Please come back for Part 2. We’re just going to keep digging in and unfolding and refolding and opening up and closing up, and it’s all here. I just think it’s such an important topic for me right now, I think for most of us. Come back. Part 2. I’m glad you’re here. You can find all the information on Stay awkward, brave, and kind.

BB: Unlocking Us is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown. It’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and Tristan McNeil. And by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil and Andy Waits, and music is by the amazing Carrie Rodriguez and the amazing Gina Chavez.


© 2022 Brené Brown Education and Research Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Brown, B. (Host). (2022, November 30). Brené with Chris Germer on the Near and Far Enemies of Fierce Compassion, Part 1 of 2. [Audio podcast episode]. In Unlocking Us with Brené Brown. Parcast Network.

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