May 22, 2023

How to cultivate compassion in everyday life with Dina Cantin

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Ofosu and Leah talk with former Real Housewife of New Jersey and activist for childhood cancer Dina Cantin about her journey toward living a life with more compassion. They also discuss practical tips for developing empathy and communicating with kindness, and Dina shares her top five life lessons.

📲 Want to learn how to be more compassionate and increase your overall well-being? Unlock your FREE YEAR of Balance today by downloading it from the App Store or Play Store:

🎧 What's in this episode

The Power of Compassion: Why it Matters in Today's World

At the start of the show, Leah and Ofosu discuss the importance of cultivating compassion for ourselves and others, and invite Dina Cantin, creator of Project Ladybug, a supportive ally of DCG Giving, and a former Real Housewife of New Jersey, to share her insights and experiences on the topic. 

Developing Empathy and Understanding: Tips and Techniques

Dina discusses the importance of distinguishing between empathy and compassion, and how she learned the importance of self-compassion later in life. She attributes this realization to a series of events, including her involvement in a home invasion in 2017. Hear more at (02:50).

Communicating with kindness: Strategies for effective and compassionate communication

Dina describes how effective compassionate communication involves not taking things personally and understanding that the other person's words or actions are often a result of their past experiences and triggers. She emphasizes the importance of challenging loved ones to grow and heal, explaining that doing so not only benefits them, but also makes our own lives better. Hear more at (07:50).

Cultivating compassion in relationships: Tips for building stronger connections with others

Dina explains that building strong connections with compassion as the baseline in relationships requires both partners to be willing to work and grow together, and to take into consideration that one person may be more advanced than the other. Hear more at (10:32).

Dina's top five life lessons: Practices for cultivating compassion through self-care

Dina shares her top five life lessons: 

  1. Joy is not what you think it is.
  2. This too shall pass.
  3. Cultivate more relationships.
  4. We are all connected.
  5. None of this is real.

Hear more, and Leah and Ofosu's reactions, at (12:42).

Compassion in action: Making a positive difference in the world

Dina discusses how she maintains resilience and hope while staying engaged with causes that are close to her, like animal rescue and childhood cancer. Hear more at (14:14).

📚 More about Dina Cantin:

Dina Cantin is the creator of Project Ladybug, a supportive ally of DCG Giving, and a former Real Housewife of New Jersey.

📱 Follow Dina on Instagram:

🎤 Listen to Dina’s podcast, Dina Does, here:

▶️ Follow along on YouTube to watch this episode and more exclusive content:

🧘 About Balance:

Well Balanced is co-hosted by meditation experts Ofosu and Leah, Balance’s Co-Heads of Meditation. Balance is a highly personalized meditation and sleep app that's been named Google's App of the Year and Apple's App of the Day. Completely free for the entire first year, Balance is helping 5 million+ people around the world improve their stress, sleep, focus, and mood.


Dina: You know, I was always taught from my parents at a young age to give back. And that is very important, that aspect of compassion. But the thing that can get very confusing is the difference between being a compassionate person and being a martyr.

Leah: Hi, I'm Leah Santa Cruz.

Ofosu: And I'm Ofosu Jones Quartey. 

Leah: And we're the meditation experts from The Balance App. 

Ofosu: And this is our podcast, Well Balanced, where we explore ways to live a focused, relaxed, and happier life. 

Leah: So, Ofosu, I know you and I are all about self compassion, like how you always sign off the show.

Don't forget to be kind to yourself. No, wait. Don't forget to be kind to yourself.

Ofosu: Well, yeah, you know, yeah, self compassion is a huge part of my life and what I like to offer in my teachings. It's, it's a part of my mantra, you are enough, and I've got it all tattooed on me and stuff. So yes, it's very important to me. Yep. Yep, yep, yep. You are enough. 

Leah: Well, I think the thing about compassion for ourselves and for other people is that it can feel difficult to know how to cultivate that.

Yet, most of us want more of it in our life. So I want to talk about how to be more compassionate today and I brought a very compassionate person onto the show today to help us out. Sound good?

Ofosu: That sounds amazing. We always love compassionate people over here so let's get into it.

Leah: So our guest for today is my friend Dina Cantin. You may know her from the Real Housewives of New Jersey, but I know her as a supportive ally and the creator of Project Ladybug.

She's continuing her fight now to help children with cancer with DCG Giving, which is a foundation that helps families who have children with cancer to pay for their medical bills. And it's just amazing work. And she's also an animal rescuer like me. She knows a thing or two about compassion. And I want to ask her all about how she learned those lessons and what we can learn from her.

Hi, Dina. 

Dina: Hey, how are you? 

Leah: I'm great. I'm so excited to finally have this conversation with you, but meaning to get you on the show for a while. Um, because I think you have a lot to share with us. 

Dina: Well, first thing I want to say is like, I'm usually known for my like human Xanax qualities, but the two of you, boy, right away put me in such a good place just listening to both your voices.

Leah: Well, hey, we got our jobs cut out for us, you know, we, we were born with these voices. Um, no, obviously there's more to it than that. But yeah, thank you. I love the human Xanax quality. And there's a human compassion quality too, and you've really got the juice in that. I know, um, we've got some of that too, yet I want to talk to you and get your take on compassion.

Why do you think it matters in today's world?

Dina: Well, what's funny is, um, I'm the youngest of 11 children, so I'm very highly intuitive to people's emotions. Growing up in that crazy household, you kind of become that and you become more empathic too. So I think for most of my life I was confusing empathy with compassion, and maybe it was off balance a little bit.

So the older I get, the more clear I am on what compassion is, because compassion is when you take, you know, the feeling of connecting with someone else, but then you add an action to it and wanting to help them. I love how you started this off with self compassion, because for a very long time, I was very compassionate towards others, but I was missing it for myself. 

Leah: I think that can be the hardest for people. 

Ofosu: Yeah. I'm curious. Um, when did you decide that that was important, you know, to practice compassion for yourself? 

Dina: Um, you know, it was a series of events, but I'll be honest and it wasn't until later in life. Um, you know, I was always taught from my parents at a young age to give back, and that is very important, that aspect of compassion.

But the thing that can get very confusing is the difference between being a compassionate person and being a martyr. And for a long time, you know, I think coming from such a large family with all these different dynamics and my dad being very strict. He died in 2020. And that's when the real work on myself, self compassion stepped in, because until then I was so fixated in trying to fix him and some of the men in my relationships that I didn't make space for my own compassion.

And I think once he passed over, I was able to really confront myself and look at the part that I played. And a lot of this, and the key element that was missing was self compassion. And instead of feeling bad, I used to say about my dad, you know, he was raised, God forbid, I'm grandma, I'm sorry, but he was raised by wolves because his parents were not very loving people.

Um, so I would always make excuses for him, but he wasn't taught to love. He wasn't taught to be soft. He had to be a fighter. He had 11 children and a wife, you know.

Leah: Like a lot of people in that generation. 

Dina: Exactly. Um, so I always made excuses for him and I didn't make space for the other emotions like anger and all of those things that you're allowed to have when someone does something to harm you.

So it was a series of events, uh, like, as you know, I was involved in a home invasion in 2017. I'm so sorry. Yeah. But I really didn't start the real self healing until after that incident. Yeah. When I was kind of forced. To look at myself and be more self aware of how I played a part in a lot of these things that came into my life.

Leah: Yeah, I think a lot of people come to these practices after experiencing traumas and needing to find answers for how to heal and move through them. Oh, well, thank you for sharing that story. I really think it was great that you made the distinction between being a martyr and having compassion. Um, because I think it can be so easy to think when being compassionate when really we are not setting strong enough boundaries and are getting taken advantage of or having, you know, we're giving more than we have available.

And I think if we get in this pattern of just giving, giving, giving without taking care of ourselves. Um, we're left with nothing afterwards and, and then we can't be of service at all to ourselves or to anyone. So I appreciate that you made that distinction because I think compassion comes with this ability to define our boundaries as well.

Dina: Yeah. And that, that's, like I said, the difference between empathy, you know, when you empathize with someone, you can understand them and you could feel and compassion is the next step is helping that person or yourself. And that's where the distinction really comes in. And you can be compassionate towards someone, but also challenge them, um, with boundaries and using discernment and everything else.

And specifically for myself, that was really the turning point. Like you asked, like turning it back to me is like forgiving myself for when I didn't know better. Um, or I would when I didn't have the tools or when I was confused, but thank goodness times have changed now and, um, people are starting on their self awareness journeys earlier and, you know, raising my daughter the way she's been raised.

She's 27 and she amazes me every day with her wisdom and her ability to put boundaries in place. 

Ofosu: Yeah. Dina, you talked about learning to set boundaries. What have you learned in your time on your journey about compassionate communication that is effective? 

Dina: Gosh, there's so many ways you can answer that.

The number one thing I think is so important is don't take anything personally. Because it's never about you. It's always about something that they've gone through. It's a little tap on a trigger, that they've experienced at another time and I think if you can kind of be a witness to that instead of the victim and saying, okay, this is not about me.

Those words are not against me. And again, challenge them for growth. There's nothing. more loving you can do for those we love is to challenge them to grow. By just agreeing with them or saying this is going to cause an argument, so let me just agree, that's enabling the wounds as people that we love, you know, not only to make them better, but let's be honest, to make our lives better.

Because if they're, if they're more calm and they're, you know, healed, your life will be better too. So for that reason alone, for those of us who, may not feel so compassionate or more frustrated. Don't you want your life to be better? And it will be if the people around you are healing. 

Leah: Dina, you hit it on the head.

Like for me, that was like the yes moment when you said like, it's not about you. It's has more to do with their past or something else that they're triggered by. Like, I love the saying when it's hysterical, it's historical. It's great that if we can remember that in the heat of the moment. Or even just in hindsight, that's like, for me, one of the biggest steps to being able to shift from victim, blame, anger into compassion.

For sure. Because I, I can have compassion for someone and still not condone that the action was right or justified. But I can say, you know what, I can see that this is coming from a hurt place because hurt people hurt people. And you know, you're doing the best with what you know how. You are seeking happiness and.

And in some way, shape, or form, this is how you were taught that this would be the best way to get to that. For sure. You know, I think when it comes to our love relationships, like with our spouse, with our, our partners, um, with those people that we're very close with, it can be so much easier to take things personally in those relationships when someone's, cause they really know your buttons, like they've installed them.

Um, can you talk about how you cultivated compassion in your relationships? Like, how do you build this strong connection with important people in your life with compassion as the baseline? Like maybe, for example, with Dave, your husband? 

Dina: Well, I'll say, first of all, that both people have to be willing to do the work.

That's number one, because I've been in relationships before where things were not aligned, but I was the only one doing the work. So before I even give any advice on that, you have to be sure that your partner is willing to work and grow with you. And that's why I adore Dave so much is because, especially the first two years of our relationship, we were going through it. I mean, it wasn't just, um, a new relationship. We're both going through divorces. We moved across the country. We had exes that were challenging to say the least. Um, so number one is that when we ran into an issue, we both were willing to work on things. So I'll say that number one.

Number two, there's always going to be someone who's a little bit more advanced than the others. And I'm sorry, but it's usually the women. 

Ofosu: I agree. I agree. I agree completely.

Dina: So you have to take that into consideration. Number one, you both have to work on your side of the street. Um, a friend of mine, Terry Cole always taught me about the dance that a lot of couples do.

Sometimes you have to just get off the dance floor. And say, this is not the relationship, but sometimes you just need to change up the steps and the conditioning that you were programmed to do. Just look at that. And how can I be different in this misunderstanding or argument and you'll see once you start changing those little micro shifts, the major changes will come.

We're always trying to fix what we couldn't fix in other relationship, whether they be previous love relationships or parents, for the most part, the sooner we realize the patterns that we're in and change them, the sooner the healing could really begin for yourself and for the couple as a whole. 

Ofosu: Okay, Dina, I'm going off script completely.

Hit me with this and I just, and I just, I just want you to, I just want you to just whatever comes to mind, your top five life lessons, just I'm an alien. I've landed on earth. I happened to run into you. I need to know. Everything that's super important about living on this planet. You're my download person.

I only have one minute. So you got, give me your top five.

Dina: Oh God. That's a hot seat question. 

Ofosu: Yeah. I feel like it's there though. I feel like this is, this moment's right for it. Let's get it. 

Dina: Number one, joy is not what you think it is. Uh, number two. This too shall pass.

Good and bad um, number three cultivate more relationships. Build a bigger tribe. We're in this together. Literally. Number four, the obvious one. We are all connected. We're all one. The sooner we realize that, the better we'll be. And number five is the big one. Like none of this is real. 

Ofosu: Let me tell you something.

If I, if I landed on planet earth and I got slapped with those five life lessons, I would be better for it. I knew we were going to get something dope if we did that.

Leah: I'm curious about the first one.

Ofosu: Yeah, joy is not what you think. Yeah. 

Leah: Joy is not what you think it is. I was like, yeah, Dina, I have a burning question for you.

And this is like, for me personally. I need help with this because we talked about high live in Bali and as you know, when you were here and you're an animal lover, um, so am I, I have two rescue dogs and I'm fostering a dog and several puppies. 

Ofosu: Those puppies still in the house? 

Leah: Well, yeah, they're actually my friend's house for a couple of days because the mom and dog got part of a long story. 

Ofosu: You have, you have six dogs now, that's it. That's what it is. That's basic. That's basic. You are not getting rid of those dogs. Look at your face. You're not getting rid of those dogs.

Leah: I want to save all the animals, but I can't. I drive around on my scooter.

I see dogs and street dogs in horrible conditions. And there's an animal rescue, uh, welfare association called Bawa here in Bali. And if you're listening to this and you're an animal lover, please donate to them because they are doing amazing service. There's not enough people like them here. Um, so. It breaks my heart over and over again as I drive around and I see these animals in suffering and I can't save them all or do everything for them.

So I tend to think of compassion like when I feel that pain about something or I feel that strong rage or anger like is a, is a motivator to take action and to do something. So I myself contribute to BAWA and other organizations here in Bali for children and I, I'm still left with this feeling of like, it's not enough because there's still suffering in this world.

There's not enough. Like, can you talk a little bit about how you put compassion into action in the world and also to work through those feelings? Maybe it's a two part question.

Dina: For sure. And I've been where you are. Um, and I dip into it from time to time again, where I feel hopeless about some of the pain that I see specifically for animals in the world.

But I have, thank God, I've been able to get to some of these spaces where I'm able to view the world in a different way where it is not this painful experience. Um, there was a time when I did animal rescue and I would just, I think the difference again between empathy and compassion is, empathy you just want to like share in the sorrow and be sad and I would cry myself to sleep.

Same thing with the children with cancer. I would go to these hospitals and I would be like, I can't handle it. I can't go to the hospital. Let me just send the money. And then finally, I was like, put your big girl pants on. This is your family. You have to go. And then I would see these children. Terminally ill children with huge smiles on their faces being so present and in the moment.

It was us around them who were suffering to see this. But so they taught me like it's all of our view of our own pain and suffering inside of us that's being mirrored to us. If we could only stay present like a dog or a child with cancer, what we see what's mirrored back to us would be much different.

Leah: That's right. Tears to my eyes. 

Dina: And I think that's where we do our own healing and that's how we eventually heal the collective and heal the planet. 

Leah: That is so makes sense to me. It's like the work needs to start here internally to heal through the sadness, the grief, the things that you. experience, like trauma or, um, that when you do the inner work, it's much easier to go out into the world and take action without feeling so much pain by it.

Yeah. It's, it's not like debilitating you or you can't see it and you can't be a part of it. Yeah. That makes a whole lot of sense to me.

Dina: Yeah. You're not joining in the suffering. So you're able to. And really, you know, again, I think there is a version of this earth that is beautiful and pain free where there is no abuse and the animals and all of the people are, are connected in a beautiful way.

And I believe that's the journey that this earth is on now. And that's what's coming out of this pandemic is everyone can admit that they're in pain in some way or another. And I think they're desperate for healing. 

Ofosu: Hmm. Dina, it's been wonderful connecting with you. Thanks so much for your super enlightening five, uh, life lessons.

I think we gotta write those down. So many, so many takeaways. Um, but I really do love, um, joy is not what you think and today's my daughter's 18th birthday, and I'm gonna drop that. I'm gonna drop that you're all grown up now jewel on her when we go down and do cake and ice cream in a second. 

Leah: Milestone. 

Ofosu: Yeah. 

Leah: Yeah big day today.

Thanks so much for joining us today Dina. It's been a pleasure. 

Dina: Love the conversation I'll be back anytime you want.

Leah: And if you want to see what Dina is up to follow her on her social Is it at Dina? That's right. I always think it's more complicated. It's not. You got the at Dina. 

Dina: And then at Dina Does podcast.

I have to have you guys on the podcast. At Dina Does is, um, our podcast that we talk about, um, anything and everything to make our lives. It's more peaceful, bring peace to our hearts. So I would love to have both of you, um, walking Xanax's on and we can further discussion there and I'll tell you the story of how I realized that joy wasn't what I thought it was.

Leah: That's right. Well, you can actually keep an eye out for season two of her podcast and we're going to have a link to that in the show notes. 

Ofosu: And if you're feeling ready to start your journey towards greater compassion and well being, try out the Balance app. It has a bunch of guided meditations, personalized programs, and expert advice to help you cultivate empathy, self compassion, and kindness in your daily life.

Leah: Compassion.

Ofosu: That's right. We built it to help you take control of your mental and emotional well being and to start living a more compassionate, fulfilling life. So. Visit us over there, download the app now, and start your meditation journey today. Take care, friends. Don't forget to be kind to yourself.


Leah: Ciao. Gosh, you got me crying at the end when you started talking about the children. I was like, ah, no, here they come, the tears. Jesus.