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Episode image based on photo by Marco Alexander
Link to episode transcript: https://tinyurl.com/4xzncasd
After losing both of his parents in the same year, Rapper Rexx Life Raj channeled his grief into his latest album. On tour, he found himself communing with fans who were struggling with grief of their own. For our show, Raj tried a meditation to cultivate more compassion, and discovered that his life was full of compassion practices – like connecting with his fans who were suffering. We also hear from researcher Hooria Jazaieri about the relationship between vulnerability and compassion, why compassion is so critical to our relationships, and the many ways we can cultivate more of it.
- Find a comfortable place and take a few moments to focus on your breath.
- Think of a loved one. Allow the feelings of warmth and love to fill your heart. Wish those individuals well.
- Think of a time when your loved one was suffering. Notice how your sensations shift. Sincerely wish that they may be free of suffering.
- You can try this practice with different types of people in your life, including loved ones, friends, and even those you don’t get along with.
Learn more about the Compassion Meditation practice at Greater Good In Action:
Rexx Life Raj is a rapper and musician from the Bay area.
Listen to his latest album, The Blue Hour: https://tinyurl.com/3rpfv9r9
Listen to Raj Life Raj’s Music: https://www.rexxliferaj.com/
Follow Raj on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RexxLifeRaj
Follow Raj on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rexxliferaj/
Hooria Jazaieri is an Assistant Professor at Santa Clara University. Her research focuses on personal reputation and emotions like compassion and awe.
Learn more about Hooria and her work: https://tinyurl.com/2ndpkke9
Follow Hooria on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HooriaJazaieri
Resources from The Greater Good Science Center:
Can Compassion Change the World: https://tinyurl.com/3ac2meyc
Does Mindfulness Make You More Compassionate? https://tinyurl.com/4beawh8b
When Empathy Hurts, Compassion Can Heal: https://tinyurl.com/yc4pyjcv
Compassionate Mind, Healthy Body: https://tinyurl.com/mruc6m95
Do Your Struggles Expand Your Compassion for Others? https://tinyurl.com/yc4pyjcv
More Resources on Compassion:
The Atlantic - What’s Missing From Empathy: https://tinyurl.com/4b6s2v3y
TED - Compassion and the true meaning of empathy: https://tinyurl.com/2kkhf3p5
Washington Post - Compassion fatigue hits not only professional caregivers. Other people get it, too: https://tinyurl.com/5325ewjt
Harvard - Connect with Empathy, But Lead with Compassion: https://tinyurl.com/5n8amcuh
What has your experience been like practicing compassion for others? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the hashtag #happinesspod.
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Rexx Life Raj: When my mom got diagnosed with cancer, it turned me into a caregiver overnight because my mom was already taking care of my dad cause he had diabetes, heart failure. He was doing dialysis, three times a week. So when she got sick, I had to step up and really take care of both of them.
My mom passed May 6th of 2021, my dad passed August 29th, 2021.
Rexx Life Raj performing: What happened to all the healing that my mama prayed for? I thought you would fix things, It got me feeling strange Lord. Tell me what we were supposed to gain from all this pain Lord. The tears feel like rain pourin’, I dropped to the baseboard…
Rexx Life Raj: I was dealing with a lot and I didn’t really tell anybody, like a lot of people didn’t even know my mom had cancer up until like a month or so before she passed away. I was really trying to handle it all myself.
Rexx Life Raj performing: They wore a mask scared of what Corona do, I wore a mask trying to cover up what I was going through. Every single day waking up feeling horrible. Thoughts in my head…
Rexx Life Raj: I understood that what I was going through, was important and it would be important for people to hear so I would just take notes on like feelings and thoughts and moments.
Rexx Life Raj performing: I wrote this album tryna work through all the shit that happened. A lot of it written in the same room my Mama passed in…Tryna be smart…But sometimes it be hard, commodifying the art. Being transparent ain’t a walk in the park
But it’ll help somebody else when they walk through the dark.
Rexx Life Raj: A lot of people resonate with this music and it really dawned on me like, man, like you put what you went through into this music and it’s connecting with people and I think that’s a beautiful thing in terms like that’s exactly what I want is just a place where people could come and we could hold a space for these feelings and these emotions.
Dacher Keltner: Welcome to The Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner.
Our guest today is the Bay Area rapper Rexx Life Raj. His latest album, The Blue Hour, deals with the grief he felt after the untimely deaths of both of his parents. And as much as writing the album helped him process his own grief, his fans were keeping him motivated, too — He hoped sharing his pain with others could help them through their own grief.
He came on our show to try a practice where he contemplated the suffering of others and sent them compassion. But through our conversation, we discovered his life was full of compassion practices.
Hooria Jazaieri: Compassion is simply about attending to the suffering that is already present, our own suffering and the suffering of others. It requires a willingness to go there, to share, to listen and to be present with each other.
Dacher Keltner: Later, we’ll learn more about the different ways we can bring compassion into our lives. More on the science and practice of compassion, after the break.
Welcome back to the Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner.
We’re joined today by the Bay Area rapper Rexx Life Raj.
Raj and I spoke after he toured his latest album, The Blue Hour — which deals in beautiful ways with his grief around the loss of both his parents.
For our show, he tried a compassion meditation, where you take a few deep breaths to settle your mind, you visualize someone, and then you make some heartfelt wishes for them to be happy, and free from suffering.
But the more Raj and I talked, the more I was reminded that there’s so many different ways that we express our compassion from music to art to contemplative practice and performing a rap album can be an exercise in compassion. And as beneficial these meditations are we feel the power of compassion most when we take action. Be it, in a create act or a form of activism or just expressing our care for other people. We feel the power of compassion most when we take action and find ourselves connecting more deeply with others. Here’s part of our conversation.
Dacher Keltner: Who taught you about compassion when you were young?
Rexx Life Raj: My mom for sure.
Dacher Keltner: What’d she teach you?
Rexx Life Raj: Just to be empathetic to other people to, you know, everybody’s in their own world and has their own problems and troubles and everybody’s dealing with things that you couldn’t even imagine.
Dacher Keltner:I’m curious, you know, your performances in particular with this new album, The Blue Hour being so much about grief and life and death, and experiences in musical performance almost became like compassion meditations where you’re holding space for fans who are suffering and talking about loss, and you’re there to feel this compassion. What do you think about that?
Rexx Life Raj: One moment that comes to mind is I wanna say it was like the sixth show, and it was in Ohio. So I get off stage and we do the meet and greets, and Ohio is a smaller show, so it’s probably like 20, 25 meet and greets. And so I talked to everybody, and then at the very end this woman comes up and she is like, Hey, I came with my boyfriend. And he’s kind of nervous to talk to you. But he just wants you to know that his mom is battling, I think she has stage four cancer.
And he was like, your, your album is really helping him right now. And I was like, man, so he ends up walking up to me and we talked for a second, but I could see like he really wanted to cry, right? But he was trying to hold it in and he was trying to be strong.
What really took me over the top was that I saw myself in him. Like I remember that. You know what I’m saying? Going through it and trying to be strong and trying to be tough and trying to thug it out, but I’m really like just dying inside. I remember telling him,” I’m like, bro, you don’t have to hold it in, bro. Like it, what you going through It’s hard to wrap your mind around it like you don’t have to be strong in this moment.”
And I remember he started crying and then I cried a little bit. But then after we talked to each other a little more, I remember I walked to the back and then I just started bawling. You know, it really dawned on me like, man, like you put what you went through into this music and it’s connecting with people and it’s like, it just became surreal, like, what is life in this moment? You know?
Dacher Keltner: That’s called art.
Rexx Life Raj: Yeah.
Dacher Keltner: Raj, I wanna ask you, you did the compassion meditation where you visualize someone and you cultivate feelings of gentleness and think of them being happy and joyful even if they’re having a hard time, and then practice this to other people as well. So tell us about the practice, who’d you pick to visualize and why that person, and how’d it go?
Rexx Life Raj: I picked a few people, cause I did like a different person every day but one of the ones who really stuck out with me is, somebody in my family who’s just dealing with a lot. I think sometimes, she can rub people the wrong way, she has like anger issues and things of that nature, but it’s because there’s a lot going on in her life, you know, and then looking at her whole upbringing from a child to where she was, it’s amazing that she made it this far. So really putting myself in her shoes and trying to visualize what it was like, not just for her in this moment, but just like growing up and understanding that with just an accumulation of all that she’s been through, She’s doing her best.
Dacher Keltner: Yeah I hear you .
Rexx Life Raj: And when you understand it, like when you put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, if I went through that, I would probably be her. You know what I’m saying? It just makes you really understand that you don’t know what people are going through.
DDacher Keltner: We’re doing our best. We so often forget that.
Rexx Life Raj: It was really helpful. Like I ended up sending her a text afterwards. And it was nothing crazy, just, Hey, checking on you, crossed my mind, just checking on you.
Rexx Life Raj: Hmm. You know, for research I’ve done I’ve recently interviewed ministers and the like, and there’s so many similarities between things like extending compassion to somebody in a science of happiness practice and prayer or, you know, the kinds of things you do in religious practice. Did you find any resemblance between the two?
Rexx Life Raj: When you’re praying for somebody, you’re putting yourself in their situation, you’re praying for every aspect of their life.
You know, you’re trying to visualize what they’re going through, so you can send your energy to that. You know what I’m saying? And that’s literally what I did, you know, this past week was just put myself in other people’s shoes and I think just the idea of visualizing it and putting yourself in people’s shoes, you naturally want the best for people. So this, it’s basically the same as prayer, at least for me it is.
Dacher Keltner: I’m curious, Raj, you know, in particular with this person who’s a little tougher to feel compassionate for, you felt it and then you sent a text to this individual, what did that lead to? What’d she say?
Rexx Life Raj: She’s like, “Oh, I appreciate it. I’ve been thinking about you as well.” And we just went back and forth a little bit, asked her how she was doing, how everything was going. But I think more so than what we talked about, it’s just the idea that I’m checking on you. Like you’re thought about, it put me in the head space to even reach out. Cause without the meditation, I probably wouldn’t even have. I would’ve seen her when I saw her, you know, at whatever family gathering. But it put me in the head space to even reach out to see how she was. I know for me that was a big thing when going through grief. It was like, it’s not even that I wanted people to say certain things to me, but I wanted it to be known that you were thinking about me. So for me, you know, I just wanted to let her know, like, even though we don’t talk all the time, you know, I’m here if you ever need anything and I’m thinking of you.
Dacher Keltner: Right on. Well, thank you for all that you do and for lifting people’s spirits up and providing some wisdom here through your language of music. And thanks for being on our show.
Rexx Life Raj: Thank you for having me.
Rexx Life Raj performing: All this love inside me is only for you, I can feel your energy around me, even when you’re not really around me, it surrounds me.
Dacher Keltner: You know, I’m really inspired by the lessons that Raj offers us to how to practice compassion. That he found self compassion for his suffering through his creative work. His music. That there’s a sacred relationship between artist and fan, that there’s power in knowing that someone is just thinking of you.
And it’s a great reminder for scientists like me that while we study these practices in the lab, there’s wisdom in these other kinds of practices. Science may or may not have caught up with these insights but we certainly learn about them from our guests on this show.
Hooria Jazaieri: Compassion is simply about attending to the suffering that is already present, our own suffering and the suffering of others.
Dacher Keltner: Stick around to learn more about practicing compassion and how to feel more of it.
And if this episode touched you in some way, share it with a friend. It helps the show out a lot and it helps us grow these important conversations.
This episode features music from The Blue Hour, the album Rexx Life Raj wrote after his parents passed away. You can find a link to it in our show notes.
More after this break.
Welcome back to The Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner.
We’ve been talking with the rapper Rexx Life Raj about compassion, and the various ways we can practice it.
Our producer Haley Gray wanted to learn more about compassion, and how understanding it better might help us experience it more readily in our lives.
She spoke with my longtime collaborator Hooria Jazaieri, Professor of Management at Santa Clara University who studied compassion in the lab.
Haley Gray: If you’re listening to this episode, you probably agree with this statement: Compassion is important.
But what about this one: The root of all compassion … is suffering.
Hooria Jazaieri: Awareness of suffering. Feeling some sympathetic concern related to, feeling moved by the suffering. A wish to see the relief and responsiveness or readiness to help relieve that suffering. If we’re not aware that others are suffering, how could we feel compassion for them?
Haley Gray: It’s kind of a different way to think about it but it can help us understand some of the biggest barriers to giving, or receiving compassion — It requires vulnerability.
Hooria Jazaieri: It means that I’m allowing you to know me and I’m allowing myself to be seen. Oftentimes we’re embarrassed about our own distress or suffering. It can feel really scary letting others know how we’re really doing and sometimes we’re aware of the suffering and we feel moved by it, but we stop there and we don’t have this intention and motivation to help relieve the suffering.
Haley Gray: Both giving compassion and receiving it can make us feel like we’re putting ourselves out there. But Jazaieri says it’s crucial that we take that risk.
Hooria Jazaieri: I think life is all about these relationships that we have with each other. And so by choosing to cultivate compassion, we’re saying, I want to be responsive to others, and I want to allow others to see me and know me.
Haley Gray: And studies have found a link between doing things to cultivate more compassion, and feeling less shame, and less self-criticism. And that can help us open up even more. But it’s important to be mindful of who we let in, and how.
Hooria Jazaieri: We have to decide what do we share with each other, right? As a professor, if a student says, “how are you doing?” And I’ve had a rough morning. I can say, “I’ve had a rough morning and I’m really glad to be here in the classroom with all of you.” Right? I don’t need to go into the details about, you know, what happened. But I can sort of be real with them. And that can sort of just normalize this experience that, there are days that have some distress and suffering, and days that have really joyful, beautiful moments. And so being willing to share that with each other to the degree that is appropriate depending on the context.
Haley Gray: To get us in the headspace to share and to really be there when others share with us, there are a few practices that scientists have found time and time again to help us cultivate compassion – The Compassion Meditation Raj tried for this episode is a great example, and you can find a link to that in our show notes.
But meditation is not the only route.
Hooria Jazaieri: There’s a lot of research which shows that meditation is not for everyone. And so maybe it’s through a different avenue that you connect with your own suffering or the suffering of others, like through music or reading books or poetry, prayer for themselves, for others, for the world, thinking about journaling. It really comes down to wanting some high quality relationships in our lives and from my perspective, these high quality relationships come from knowing those moments of suffering, those moments of joy and everything in between. But it requires a willingness to go there to share, to listen and to be present with each other.
Haley Gray: Our next episode of The Science of Happiness is all about respect – what does it really take to give it, and why it’s so important.
Omar Guzman: I kind of needed to acknowledge my own biases and my own feelings about entering into this case before going in. You know you’re gonna walk in and you already have these feelings, you need to acknowledge them, put them aside, and you need to listen.
Dacher Keltner: Thanks Haley. And thanks for joining us on The Science of Happiness. I’m Dacher Keltner.
Share your thoughts on this episode with us at email@example.com or with the hashtag, happinesspod. It really means a lot to us to hear from you.
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Our Executive Producer of Audio is Shuka Kalantari. Our producer is Haley Gray. Sound designer Jennie Cataldo of Accompany Studios. And our Associate Poducer is Maarya Zafar. Our editor in chief is Jason Marsh. The Science of Happiness is a co-production of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and PRX.