“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” ~ Albert Einstein
“Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.” ~ Rumi
Suffering is hard. It’s hard when we experience it and it’s hard when people we love experience it. But suffering give us all the ability to practice compassion so it’s a wonderful gift just on that merit. We would not be as rich or complex without this opportunity so embrace it when it comes into your life. Practicing compassion always has the side effect of connection and love. It’s an inherent by product you get as a bonus so spread as much compassion around as possible and watch your life bloom.
Here are 5 ways you can cultivate compassion in your life.
- Deeply Listen
One radical act of compassion is to deeply listen to the person talking to you. Really hear what they say. Turn off that tendency to run your own mental discourse while they are talking. Stop planning what you’re going to say, stop judging or analyzing every word, just listen.
Be as curios as possible. Act as if what they are saying is golden and you want to hear every word. Ask them to tell you more when they pause. Disengage your ego and show up with your heart.
- Hear What’s Not Being Said
OK so compassion can’t happen when everything is rosy. So sometimes you need to hear what’s not being said. Look behind the yelling tone, the harsh words, and the angry look; ask yourself, “What could all this be masking?” Maybe it’s hurt feelings, self-judgment, or embarrassment. Show compassion by bypassing the surface and dive into understanding the feelings.
- Put Yourself in Another’s Shoes
Whenever you are irritated or upset by another’s actions, remember you have no idea what is going on for them. So when that clerk is short tempered with you, or your boss ignores you in the hall when you say hello, send them compassion instead of spinning out into anger.
Reader’s Digest once ran this story that illustrates this point beautifully:
A father and his three children got on a bus in central London. The father was lost in his own thoughts, and the kids, being unsupervised, were loud and disruptive to the other passengers.
Finally, a lady in a nearby seat leaned over to the father and said, “You really need to parent your children better. They are so unruly.” The father, shaken from his reverie, says, “I’m so sorry. Their mother, my wife, just died and we are returning from her funeral. I think we are all a little overwhelmed. I apologize.”
Remember you can never know what’s really going on with someone at that particular moment so make compassion your default.
- Remember We Are All One
It helps me to remember we are all one. We all have suffering, we all want love and acceptance, and we all drop the ball sometimes. By remembering our shared humanity I can shift from taking things personally into a place of love and compassion for someone who is struggling.
This exercise comes from Ode Magazine and it gives you a framework to mentally rehearse when you are faced with a situation that calls forth your compassion. Focus on the person and tell yourself:
“Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
“Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
“Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.”
“Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.”
“Just like me, this person is learning about life.”
- Give Yourself A Break
Self-compassion is just as important as regular compassion. You will not be able to give what you do not have, so this practice is vital to your success in cultivating compassion. You are just as human as everyone else so when you fall down be gentle with yourself. If there is some aspect of your life you are not happy with, treat it with compassion as you are changing it. Give yourself the same consideration you would a child or a stranger.
“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” ~ Lao Tzu
September’s joy-full lesson is cultivating compassion grows the love you have in your life. Your love extends to the entire world when you approach life with compassion.
Here is a morning ritual practiced by the Dalai Lama to cultivate compassion. Plant this seed in your daily life and watch what wondrous beauty grows from it.
“Today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”