Take a few minutes to quiet your mind and open your heart. Become aware that your quiet mind and open heart have prepared the way for the next two aspects of mature compassion – presence and radical simplicity. These two sisters of compassion lead you into the very essence of your humanity.

Recall a situation where you were caring for someone, or for some part of the natural world, who was suffering – a sick child or parent, a client or colleague in pain, a stranger in need, a wounded animal, a polluted river, or a dying forest. Become aware of your initial feelings – maybe you were concerned about performance, self-conscious or nervous about doing the right thing, wanting to fix or control the situation. Your ego wants your service to be grand and heroic. It's looking for power or a guarantee of spiritual brownie points. Just let yourself feel these impulses, no need to hide them; we all have them. What else do you feel at this initial stage of caring? Take time to reflect, draw, and journal.

Staying with the same situation, once again quiet your mind and open your heart. Imagine that all you have to do is be fully present to the person or creature in your care; all that's required to serve skillfully is radical simplicity. Feel the relief in this; no need to perform or do "the right thing"; no need to run away from their pain or overdramatize it. Now visualize yourself listening deeply to this person or creature's pain. See yourself accepting things as they are without needing to change or control anything. Ask what is needed in this moment, and visualize yourself doing it with a loving heart.

Now you begin to see that this simple, humble presence is really about being yourself. What qualities help you to just be yourself when you care for others? . . . What happens when you let go of self-consciousness and just be yourself? Take time to reflect, draw, and journal.

Imagine feeling more and more at ease just being yourself: listening, laughing, crying, and caring. Consider how this exchange of your very humanness is healing both you and the one in your care. Can you feel yourself being healed by the one you are caring for? How do you experience this mutuality that allows genuine caring to take place? Take time to reflect, draw, and journal.

When you finish take some time to read over your journal. The next time you find yourself caring for a family member, a colleague, a friend, a client, or a nonhuman friend, come back to this exercise to help you stay centered. And remember that presence ask that you simply be yourself and humbly do what's needed with a loving heart.

Gail Straub in The Rhythm of Compassion