Are You Prepared to Truly Understand Compassion?
Compassion may be one of the most important words in the human vocabulary. At its essence, compassion is a profound term that means to literally “suffer together”. It requires profound empathy, understanding, identification, and engagement. From this perspective, compassion is really only earned through full honest engagement, expression, and responsible examination of the unacceptable parts of ourselves that we project onto those we judge.
Lots of us experience this: we’re judgmental, quick to snap at people, getting frustrated with how other people act and treat us, judging people who have different beliefs than us — most of us don’t even realize when we’re doing it. We think we’re right to judge others, to be frustrated with them, to snap in anger.
However, if you can take a step back from the moment of reaction and reflect you can see that potentially hurtful behaviors are actually taking place. You will notice that they’re not aligned with the feel good source that you actually want to exude, the compassionate person you are at heart. Embrace that feeling, it is worthy of celebration!
That said, I think it is important to reflect on when we are judgmental. It hurts our relationships with others, makes us incredibly frustrated and unhappy. We have the ability to diffuse all of that, become happier and more loving with other people and more importantly ourselves.
Unfortunately, we judge people all the time. They are not acting appropriately and it makes us frustrated. Their food choices are different than ours, so they must be wrong. They have a different lifestyle than us, that seems silly. Their political viewpoints don’t align with us, they must be lacking knowledge. They are overweight, poor, have a different religion, speak poorly, dress badly, are on their phones all the time, taking too many selfies, have too much sex, are too uptight, etc.
We don’t always view this as being judgmental, but it absolutely is. So when we notice it, this is the opportunity for us to get plugged into our self of truth.
This is a practice I’ve been bringing into my own life as much as I can because I’ve seen the benefits and they are incredible. It takes a bit of self-awareness and practice, but it will become more and more natural the more time you invest in it.
I’d like to share a few tools that can help you be more understanding in an active way, and then how to be mindfully compassionate on an everyday basis. These practices will help you project your truth every single day by getting you plugged in to the compassion within you. Of course, I am as guilty of being judgmental as anyone else, so I don’t want to convey the impression that I’m above anyone. I’m not, but I do actively practice compassion and have noticed a difference in my life by doing so.
1. Seek to understand
Focus on understanding others, putting yourself (as much as possible) in their shoes. Understanding naturally leads to empathy and is more likely to support the development of a life full of diverse engagements. Rather than creating an instant opinion of someone, challenge yourself to be curious instead. Spend time trying to understand the person rather than coming to the conclusion that they are simply wrong. If we are judging someone, we are not taking the effort to understand their point of view. We are not focusing on gaining more knowledge and that’s causing us to be judgmental.
2. Methods to see the good intentions of others
Look inward and ask how you can explain the other person’s behavior in a positive way. There is an explanation that you could gravitate towards that makes the other person seem inconsiderate, ignorant, and simply wrong. But there is also another explanation that assumes the other person has good intentions and is just going through something or not aware of how they are being perceived. This is NOT an easy task and takes practice.
If someone seems to be doing something irritating, we might assume they are just trying to get our attention, not in a way we like mind you. When someone snaps at you, they may be experiencing fear. Based on this we might be able to conclude that the fear they are experiencing is a defense mechanism to protect their tender hearts. There is always a positive way to explain an action, even one we might think of as evil. Mind you, we don’t have to agree with that action, but we have the ability to see the tender heart that lies beneath it.
3. Remember what it’s like to go through difficulty
We have all experienced fear, frustration, anxiety, uncertainty, wanting to break free from discomfort. If we see the positive intention behind the action, we can also see the difficulty they are having that goes with that intention. We can then relate to a memory that we have when we experienced a similar difficulty — remember the pain, fear, frustration, anger, grief that goes with that difficulty.
Once we start to understand the person and their actions, see the positive intention behind the actions, empathize with their difficulty…we can begin offering compassion.
We often talk about some people as being more compassionate than others, but research suggests compassion isn’t something you’re born with. Instead, it can be strengthened through targeted exercises and practice. You have the ability to put a human face on suffering, look for profiles of specific individuals and try to imagine what their lives have been like. Take the time to step outside of your thoughts and beliefs and really try to connect with someone else about theirs, this simple practice is sure to help you elicit altruism, ultimately connecting all of us!
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