A guest post by Annika Martins of The Catalyst Sessions
Maybe they were coping with physical pain, financial struggles or the emotional weight of a divorce or the death of a loved one.
Would you define your response to them as compassionate?
Now think of the last time someone inconvenienced you.
Maybe an aggressive driver forced you to swerve off the road during rush hour or one of your children accidentally broke an expensive lamp. Maybe it was as simple as the pizza delivery guy being an hour late.
How did you respond?
Most of us live with mental blinders that prevent us from seeing the many opportunities for kindness we encounter every day. We respond to life’s challenges from a position of irritation and defensiveness instead of realizing that every moment offers us a chance to be gentle instead of sharp, thoughtful instead of insensitive.
The best way to remove these defensive blinders and make compassion an automatic response in every situation is to consciously practice incorporating it into our everyday lives.
Compassion becomes active when it is worked like a muscle. It is something we must practice, just like daily meditation, yoga or playing the piano.
By directing consistent attention and effort at it, we will naturally sink into a rhythm of words and behaviors that reflect this loving kindness in everything we do.
Daily acts of compassion
There are many activities we can engage in to proactively cultivate compassion in our daily lives. Here are 10 ideas you can try out for yourself:
tip #1: teach
You have a set of unique talents, skills and access to a wide range of resources. Who can you share your talents/resources with today? Where might you find a person who would benefit from what you have to give? Compassion does not hoard what it has but gives generously.
tip #2: be taught
There are talents/skills that don’t come to you naturally, but flow easily for others. Ask for their guidance and support. People feel empowered when we honour their abilities by asking for their contribution.
tip #3: offer sincere praise
Forced compliments and fake smiles are not easily disguised, so don’t bother trying. Instead, look for opportunities to genuinely applaud someone’s talents (tip #2 should make this fairly easy). Compassion does not claim the spotlight for itself, but rather shines it on others.
tip #4: be curious
Create opportunities to objectively explore the things and people you are judgemental of. Read a novel written by an author from a culture you have a low opinion of. Start a casual conversation with the colleague who follows a different religious/spiritual tradition. Allow yourself to recognize common values instead of relying on old stereotypes.
tip #5: switch shoes
Inhabiting someone else’s experience is one of the best ways to cultivate compassion. Offer to cover the responsibilities of a co-worker who is out sick/on vacation. Walk or take public transportation to work instead of driving. Changing our usual routine is an excellent way to shift our perspective and see others from a new vantage point.
tip #6: be a silent witness
Watch a parent walking hand in hand with their child. Let a dog lick your hand. Close your eyes and feel the wind/rain/snow on your face. Silently witness the many expressions of love happening all around you. Compassion and love are one in the same.
tip #7: create stillness
Meditation quiets the stream of mental chatter (which often includes a fair bit of judgement of ourselves and others) that diminishes our ability to fully connect with the present moment. True presence allows us to see beyond external layers of difference and identify the core oneness we share with everyone else on this planet. When you recognize the interconnectedness of everything, compassion flows naturally.
tip #8: turn it inward
Although extending compassion to others should be a daily practice, showing that same kindness to ourselves is also vital. Are you holding onto past regrets? Have you ever done/said something that you are deeply ashamed of? Ask yourself, “Who would I be without this regret/shame?” Each day, practice forgiving yourself. Whether silently, out loud or maybe in front of a mirror, cultivate a space of calm acceptance of all things.
tip #9: seek out those in need
One of the quickest ways to cultivate a sense of loving kindness is to seek out opportunities to interact with those in need. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Spend time visiting patients in a hospital (many hospitals have programs that facilitate this). Work in a soup kitchen for an afternoon. Compassion reponds to suffering with gentleness, giving its time and energy generously.
tip #10: pause
They say hindsight is 20/20. It is often easy for us to admit that we used unkind words or behaved aggressively after we’ve reflected on our actions. Don’t wait until afterwards to pause and reflect. When you have to write a difficult email, challenge a colleague or complain to the restaurant manager about poor service, pause and consider the other person’s position. Could they just be having a really rough day? Is it possible for you to communicate your concerns with kindness instead of aggressiveness? Pause and let the compassionate answer come through.
A note on Pity vs Compassion
Some might say that regularly engaging with those who are suffering (as suggested in #9) will become an enormous emotional drain.
Yes, if your interactions arise from a feeling of pity for others, you may very likely feel pained by these encounters. In fact, all of these tips could have a negative impact on both you and the recipient if the primary driver of your behavior is a feeling of pity.
Pity creates distance. It positions one person as superior, as far above the other. Compassion recognizes the sameness between all people, animals and the Earth. Compassion connects whereas pity separates.
Cultivating compassion for yourself and everything you encounter will create a life of ease and harmony.
Sounds like a good life to me.
What is your experience of offering or receiving compassion? Please share in the comments.