At our most recent monthly ACT peer consultation group meeting, a group member, Yael Schweitzer, led an exercise that fostered feelings of both discomfort and connection in group members. Although it wasn’t presented as a compassion exercise, I think it was. I wrote this Eyes on Compassion script based on my experience in the group.
This is a twist on the classic “Eyes on” exercise from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This exercise can be done in a group, with group members pairing up. It can also be done in couple therapy with the therapist guiding the exercise for the two members of the couple, or it can be done in individual therapy with the therapist simultaneously guiding the exercise and participating in it.
The exercise is likely to generate discomfort, so it provides the opportunity to practice compassion even in the presence of discomfort. The exercise takes about 10 minutes.
Here is the script:
For this exercise you will need to have a partner, so take a moment to connect with someone and physically move next to that person so that you are face to face.
Now close your eyes and notice any physical sensations that are present. What is happening in the heart area? [pause] Notice the quality of the breath. [pause] What about any emotions that are here? [pause] If any thoughts arise, go ahead and label them, “thinking,” and then come back to simply being with what is happening right now. [pause]
Now let your eyes open and let them softly connect with this person sitting in front of you. Notice that this is a person who experiences emotions, like you were just noticing inside. [pause] Sometimes this person feels happy. [pause] Sometimes proud. [pause] Sometimes this person feels loved and cared for. [longer pause]
Now close your eyes and notice the sensations that are present within you. [pause] Just be with those sensations. [pause] What about any emotions that are here? [pause] There might be some happiness inside after reflecting on this other person’s happiness. Or there might be sadness or maybe fear. [pause] Can you welcome whatever is happening right now, as a sign that you are showing up as a human being?
Now let your eyes open and let them connect with this person sitting in front of you. Notice that this person sometimes hurts. [pause] Notice that this person sometimes feels pain, sadness, and fear. [pause] This is a human being who suffers sometimes. [longer pause]
Now close your eyes and notice what’s alive inside. Let’s just stay with that for a minute. [pause]
Let’s open our eyes. What does it feel like to know that while you were noticing this person, this person was also noticing you? That you are a human being who is happy sometimes. [pause] That you are a person who suffers. [pause] This person may have been feeling a moment of happiness with you. Or maybe a moment of caring about your suffering.
Let your eyes close once again. Notice if there are any areas of tension or fear inside. [pause] Notice if there are any feelings of warmth inside. [pause] What is happening in your heart right now? Can you acknowledge yourself for your willingness and presence with another human being?
You can find a document containing the above script that you can print out, along with other scripts, here.