Over the years I’ve found myself moving towards a more compassionate lifestyle in many ways, and I’m so much happier and at peace because of it. However, there are still times when I will catch myself acting less than empathetic- as much as I hate to admit it. In these times, tapping in to your underlying sensitivity requires more than just the desire to do so. Some sort of action is usually necessary to get yourself out of your groove and in tune with others. Slight changes in the way you think are the easiest and most efficient resolutions (as long as you are willing and open-minded).
Practice these tricks the next time you find yourself emotionally detached:
-Put yourself in someone else’s shoes
This one is the most obvious solution but also one of the most helpful. We can’t help our internal judgments, as they are an innate part of human behavior. What we can do is decrease the intensity of these thoughts by imaging how we would feel in the other person’s position. Would you want someone to judge you as harshly as you judge others? Or would you prefer that they exhibit compassion and try to understand where you’re coming from? The answer seems quite obvious. The next time you notice yourself becoming hostile or exhibiting negativity, take a step back to look at the bigger picture.
-Look others in the eyes
There was an exercise I did during yoga teacher training where you sit with a partner and stare directly into their eyes for about ten minutes. I am not suggesting that you stare down your friends or acquaintances in day to day conversation, but you may find it helpful to make eye contact when speaking with them. When you look into someone’s eyes, you see beyond their physical self into something much deeper. When I did the eye exercise, I felt as if I knew my partner’s joys and sorrows. There was an unspoken connection that enabled me to cultivate a strong sense of compassion and understanding without having to say a word.
-Ask yourself why you are harboring judgment
More often that not, it is because there is something not right within yourself. We usually focus on the flaws of others to make ourselves feel better about our shortcomings. Or maybe because we are stressed or upset about something completely unrelated. Getting beyond the subconscious to identify any underlying issues at hand will not only help you to better understand yourself, but also eliminate the need to establish unwarranted criticism in the first place.
-Connect with nature
The simple act of taking a walk or bonding with a pet can be enough to create a shift within you. When I interact with nature, I am reminded of how complex and beautiful everything is. This gives me so much appreciation for life of all forms. I gain a sense of unity with the world, and what’s a more productive way to cultivate compassion than that? If I feel one with those around me, then I have no reason to feel disdain towards them, for they are- in essence- a part of me. I’m sorry if this sounds a little too hippie-dippy, but you just have to take my word for it. Go bird watching or flower picking and tell me you don’t feel more compassion afterwards.
By acceptance I mean tolerance towards others on the basis that you cannot control them or their actions. You can only control yourself so there’s no use in getting upset over something you can do nothing about. When you realize this fact, it will be much easier for you to act compassionately towards others. True compassion is helping them to better themselves without shaming them for their bumps along the way. To accept others, you do not have to condone their poor decisions. But what you can do is love them regardless and volunteer to help them if they choose.
-Remind yourself of these things:
1. You don’t know what someone has gone through. There could be any number of reasons why someone acts the way that they do. Maybe they are genuinely an awful person (unlikely) or maybe they are experiencing a difficulty in their life that is resulting in a less-than-ideal persona.
2. Everyone expresses the same basic emotions– anger, sadness, happiness, fear. We just express them in very distinct ways. Although someone may convey their feelings differently than you, contempt is not justified. Remembering that human reasoning behind our actions all stems from the same place is a helpful way to relate to those who seem different.
3. We are all living, breathing beings. That alone connects us all. Of course, the list of similarities between certain people only goes on from there. But if you are having trouble finding common ground with another person, remember that they are just a human trying to make their way through life just like you are.
And above all else, develop compassion towards yourself- for mercy towards others only comes naturally once you are able to treat yourself in that same way.
How else do you find compassion in your life when you are having trouble exhibiting it?
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Photo: Paddy Patterson via Flickr