How do we create more compassion in ourselves?
Compassion, that feeling of empathy for another’s suffering, is cultivated very simply, by practice. All of the major religions of the world hold compassion as a central virtue, and a necessary component for happiness.
Want more happiness in your life? Cultivate compassion!
Anyone can cultivate compassion. There are many roads to compassion, but I’ve dedicated this blog to three very easy steps. Do these three steps each day for a week and you are guaranteed to notice a difference in your relationships and the happiness you experience in your life.
STEP ONE: Start with INTENTION. What do you intend for yourself? What are you expecting the day to hold?
Starting the day, or right now this moment, with an intention creates connections in your brain. Simply create a mantra.
A phrase or two can start your day off with the right attitude. Here’s an example of a mantra:
“I am a conduit of compassion. I accept myself, I accept others. Today, I open myself to compassion. Today, I accept happiness. ”
Say the mantra first thing when you wake up. Or, brush the cobwebs of sleep off, turn on the bathroom light and look into the mirror and say your mantra. You can close your eyes and breath in the aroma of your morning beverage and say or think your mantra. Try it right now: “I am a conduit of compassion. I accept myself, I accept others. Today I open myself to compassion. Today I accept happiness. ”
That’s all there is to setting an intention. You can phrase it any way you like, but set your intention to open yourself to accepting yourself, others and being open to happiness.
Sometimes we do not agree with people. We become irritated with them and do no understand their behavior. But by looking past the behavior and accepting the person, we are on the path to happiness. Louise Hay said that by accepting others, truly accepting them where there are, is the first step to compassion. “Most people are doing the best they can, given what they know and understand. Including you. If they knew more and were aware of more, they would do things differently,” she says.
STEP TWO: The second step is similar to the first. It only takes a moment to RECONNECT and RECOMMIT to your intention. Once, twice or a few times a day, stop what you are doing and breathe. Take a breath in and let it go and then repeat your mantra. Try it now: “I am a conduit of compassion. I accept myself, I accept others. Today I open myself to compassion. Today I accept happiness. ”
We are not always able to accept situations, people and even our own mistakes. Whenever it happens that we fall short of acceptance, we can stop, breathe and repeat our mantra, instantly re-wiring our brains, instantly returning to the path of compassion and happiness.
For centuries upon centuries religions and spiritual practices have recognized the value of compassion.
In the Buddhist tradition The Four Noble Truths are the path that lead to the end of suffering. In this tradition, we accept that there is suffering, we determine the cause, and we end the suffering. The first step, accepting that there is suffering, can also be thought of as seeing deeper. People often act the way they do because they are suffering, or because of things unseen to our eyes. We do not know their story. Once we understand that they suffer, we can let go of our anger and reach out to them with compassion. Suffering stems from wanting things to be other than they are. By accepting things, and people, as they are, we can end suffering.
The Hindus call compassion daya and it is one of the three, along with charity and self-control, central virtues.
Christians are familiar with compassion, Matthew 9:36 states, that when Jesus saw the crowds, “He was moved with compassion,” he had compassion for them, and that is what healed the sick and gave the blind sight, compassion.
Science too recognizes the usefulness of compassion. Scientists who have studied stress know that the mind and body which are not over- stressed are more immune to disease. Being mindful is a way to cultivate compassion, says Stress Reduction Center founder Jon Kabat-Zinn. By setting an intention and coming back to that intention, you are being mindful. By accepting yourself and others, you are essentially de-stressing yourself. You are contributing to a healthier, longer life!
One way to act compassionately is by doing a random act of kindness. This can be simply holding a door for a stranger. It can be letting somebody go ahead of you in a line of traffic. You can take a moment and ask someone how they are and then stop, and really listen to how they answer. A simple smile at someone you pass on the street is a kindness. These are all ways to reconnect with your intention.
Often we are not aware of why people are acting the way they are. There is a story of a man on his way to work, the car in front of his is at a stop sign, and the woman is messing around with something in the backseat. He honks at her, but she continues to fuss with an object in the back seat. He honks again, louder, more insistent. He is growing impatient. But she still does not pull forward. Cars behind him begin to honk, he cannot drive around her as there is too much oncoming traffic. Finally, in frustration he gets out of his car and walks up to her door, ready to yell at her. He sees in the back seat her baby has somehow fallen out of the car seat and is on the floor of the car. The woman is caught in her seat belt and cannot reach the baby, and can not twist back and get out of her car. Now he knows the story. Instead of yelling at her, he helps her get her baby back into the car seat.
By recognizing that we may not have all of the information, that we indeed do not know the whole story, we are able to let go of our anger. What if that person who just cut us off on the freeway just got a call that a loved one was in the emergency room at the hospital? What if that bum who just asked us for five dollars was a prisoner of war and witnessed the execution of the soldiers in his platoon? What if that girl who dresses immodestly has been sexually abused for years and no one has ever helped her?
Once we stop and understand that we do not know what it is that has brought them to this point, we reaffirm our intention, we cultivate compassion.
We have to consider that it is not always really about us. People are going through things in life that cause them to suffer. Miguel Ruiz, in his book The Four Agreements, tells us to “take nothing personally.” When we stop, breathe, and reaffirm our intention, saying “I am a conduit of compassion. I accept myself, I accept others. Today I open myself to compassion. Today I accept happiness,” we see deeper.
By creating a mantra, and returning to it, we rewire our brains to think in a new way and we are then able to change our behavior. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said, “There is within each one of us a potential for goodness beyond our imagining; for giving which seeks no reward; for listening without judgment; for loving unconditionally.”
STEP THREE: At the end of your day, REFLECT. Think back on what happened that day, how you were able to come back to your mantra, “I am a conduit of compassion. I accept myself. I accept others. Today I open myself to compassion. Today I accept happiness” and to your intention. Review how you changed your thoughts and behavior. If you did not act with compassion, think about how you could have, visualize the situation as you would have liked to have acted, this too creates new pathways in the brain.
Want more happiness? Cultivate compassion! Set an intention for acceptance and compassion with a mantra. Reconnect and recommit to that mantra throughout the day. Reflect on how your intention influenced you and visualize yourself acting with compassion. That’s all there is to it!