by Nicole Iacovoni, WT founder and chief clinician
We have a natural capacity for compassion as well as for cruelty. Everybody is born with feelings of envy and hate, and if we indulge these, they will lead us into violence and crime and all sense of loyalty and good faith will disappear. We can either choose a life directed by our primitive brain (ego) or embrace a life of compassion, acceptance, and inclusion of all humanity. The choice is ours.
Compassion requires us to open our hearts and minds to all others. We have been trained to think individualistically. Each of us is the main character in our own life story, and we often pay little attention to the lives of others or how all of our lives are intertwined in an intricate tapestry of life. Our attention and intentions must focus on leading our world to a place of peace, and the only way to do so, is to develop compassion.
Here are 7 simple ways to live with compassion.
1. Look at the world.
Take yourself mentally to the summit of a high mountain, where you can stand back and see things from a different perspective. As we look around, we can see clearly the darkness that exists in the world and we recognize that something needs to be done. The solutions though, are not apparent and not immediate. But we shouldn’t approach our goal of peace with anger, frustration, or impatience. We must look at our family, friends, community, and country with compassion and estimate the strengths and weaknesses, as well as the potential for change.
No single individual can take on all the problems of the world. We each have a responsibility to ask ourselves what particular contributions we should make and where we should concentrate our efforts. Everyone can become a powerful force for good in the world.
2. Have compassion for yourself and empathy for others.
If you can’t love yourself, you can’t love other people either. It isn’t easy to love ourselves. In our power-driven, commercialized society, we often berate ourselves for our shortcomings and failure to achieve the outcomes we set for ourselves. If we treat ourselves harshly, this is the way we are likely to treat others. Make a list of your good qualities, talents, and achievements.
Without denying your faults, recognize all your successes or kind things you have done, even those that may have gone unnoticed.
Having empathy of others means we must sit in their pain and feel it with them. When it comes to involving ourselves in someone else’s suffering, it’s common to try to avoid unnecessary grief by steeling our hearts against feeling any type of hurt. But taking note of our initial reluctance to engage, remembering the things that were helpful to us in our own times of struggle, and giving those gifts to others leads to unlimited compassion. To grow, we have to become more open and kinder in the presence of our own pain and extend that kindness to others.
3. Practice mindfulness.
Through mindfulness, we can observe the way our minds work, which enables us to detach from our ego. Unlike formal meditation, mindfulness isn’t done in solitude or separate from our ordinary routines. Being mindful means mentally standing back and observing our behavior while we are engaged in the normal process of living so that we may discover more about the way we interact with people, what makes us angry or unhappy, and how to fully live in the present moment. The only way to end the intolerable misery we see all around us is by a huge intellectual effort that begins with the transformation of our own selves. By looking into our own hearts, critically observing our behavior, and taking note of our reactions to pain and joy, we find ways to order social relations and bring forth peace. With time and practice, mindfulness can help us distance ourselves from the irrational emotions that pop up within us rather than
becoming distressed or allowing our ever-changing moods to take control.
4. Take action.
It’s not enough to think about being kind. We must back up our intentions with action. One small act of kindness can turn a life around. We may not fully know how our little gestures impact the lives of others, but the people whose lives we touch never forget. Make a commitment every day to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, while also resolving to not treat others in ways you wouldn’t want to be treated. To achieve this, we must change our thought patterns and not allow ourselves to wallow in self pity, anger, or resentment. Clutching to these emotions is toxic for ourselves and the people around us.
5. Admit how little we know.
All too often, people impose their own experience and beliefs on others, making hurtful,
inaccurate, and dismissive snap judgments, not only about individuals but about whole cultures.
It’s valuable to have a strong belief system and express freedom of speech, but we must all
recognize that we don’t always know what we’re talking about. Not knowing isn’t a bad thing; it is an essential part of the human experience to constantly be curious. Big problems are created when we convince ourselves and attempt to convince others that we are the expert, while clinging to our certainties, likes, and dislikes as though they make us who we are. After all, knowing much about any given topic only makes us more aware of how much more we have to learn. We must ask be humble when it comes to our own knowledge and always be willing to say “I don’t know”.
6. Learn more.
Expanding our knowledge of other cultures, religions, and lifestyles helps us to see the
similarities we share instead of focusing on what sets us apart. Rather than trying to become masters of the world, we can gain more momentum by concentrating our efforts initially on learning more about just one or two of our global neighbors. Try to find out more about a country’s poetry or music. Try learning the language. Start following the national soccer team or invite friends to celebrate a foreign holiday with you. The goal is to make more room in your mind for people who are different from you.
7. Use gratitude as a vehicle for compassion.
Everywhere we look, we can find someone in despair. While images and stories of suffering are unpleasant and discouraging in our quest for a more peaceful world, we can use the heartache of others to fill ourselves with gratitude for our blessings when we are inclined to feel sorry for ourselves. Allowing our conscious mind to take in troubles faced by others helps us develop concern for everybody, even those who are strangers to us. By extending loving kindness and compassion to those in need, while holding gratitude in our hearts for our own virtues, we find ourselves blessed and embraced by the presence of something greater than ourselves.
With purpose and action, we can bring forth the compassion that exists potentially within every human being so that it can become a healing force in our own lives and in the world. By retraining ourselves to be kinder, gentler, and less fearful of others, we can be the change we want to see in the world. It isn’t easy to maintain a positive attitude and stay committed to these ways of life. There will be many times when we feel our individual efforts can’t possibly conquer all the hate and evil in the world. In these moments, turn to the great leaders before us, who lived by example. Imagine the strength they must have mustered to continue in the face of adversity. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, “Only goodness can drive out evil and only love can overcome hate. Loving our enemies means that we have to accept the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury on us”. May the wisdom and loving essence of his words remain with you as you live a life full of compassion.