Understanding Compassion

Understanding Compassion

Someone recently said to me that they are frustrated with themselves, they haven’t been as compassionate to people as they’d like recently.  Lots of us experience this: we’re judgemental, quick to snap at people, getting frustrated with how other people act, judging people who have different beliefs than us.

The person I was talking to is actually quite aware of being judgemental — most of us don’t even realise when we’re doing it. We think we’re right to judge others, to be frustrated with them, to snap in anger.

This person, in contrast, sees the less-than-friendly actions they take and sees that they’re not aligned with the good person they wants to be, their actions are out of kilter with their values, to be the compassionate person they are at heart.  They notice the less friendly actions and wants to change them. That is worthy of celebration.

I’d like to talk about how to be more understanding, and then how to be mindfully compassionate on an everyday basis. Of course, I am as guilty of being judgmental and less-than-compassionate as anyone else, so I don’t want to convey the impression that I’m above anyone. I’m not, I still have to check in with myself on a daily basis.

That said, I think this is important: when we are judgemental, it hurts our relationships with others, and makes us frustrated and unhappy. We can dissolve all of that, and be happier and more loving with other people and ourselves.

The Basics of Being Understanding

When we’re feeling frustrated with others, when we notice ourselves judging others we can use this as a signpost that it’s time to try understanding them instead.

We judge people all the time:

  • They are acting badly, so we’re frustrated with them
  • They eat differently than us, so we think they’re wrong
  • They live differently than us, so we think they are dumb
  • They have different political views than us, so we think they’re deluded
  • They’re 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 prudish, etc. etc.

We don’t recognise all of this as being judgemental, but it is. So when we’re doing it, let’s use it as a reminder that helps us re-calibrate our thinking towards others.

  1. Seek to understand.  Instead of having an instant opinion about someone, challenge yourself to be curious instead. See if you can try to understand the person rather than thinking they’re wrong. If we are judging someone, we’re not understanding them. We have a lack of knowledge that’s causing us to be judgemental.
  2. Ask how you can see a good-hearted explanation. For example when someone lashes out at you, they might be experiencing fear.  There’s always a good-hearted way to explain an action, we don’t have to condone that action, but maybe we can see the tender heart that lies beneath it.
  3. Remember what it’s like to go through that difficulty. We have all experienced fear, frustration, anxiety, uncertainty, wanting to go away from discomfort. If we see the good-hearted intention behind the action, we can see the difficulty they’re having that goes with that intention. And we can remember what it’s like to have 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 good heart behind the actions, empathise with their difficulty ……. we can start offering compassion.

A Simple Compassion Method

If you can empathise with the other person’s difficulties, then you can offer them compassion:

  • If they’re suffering pain or stress, you can simply wish for an end to that pain or stress.
  • You might also wish for them to be happy.
  • You might even send love from your heart to theirs.

A good daily practice is Metta Bhavana or Loving Kindness meditation. Try this for just a few minutes a day:

  1. Simply sit still and picture yourself in pain or stress. Allow yourself to feel it in your body.
  2. Wish the following for yourself;  May I be peaceful, May I be happy, May I live my life with ease.
  3. Now repeat this with a loved one, picturing them in pain. Wish the following for them;  May you be peaceful, May you be happy, May you live your life with ease.
  4. Repeat the process with a good friend, a colleague, a neighbour, and a stranger.
  5. Finally, picture everyone in the world, and wish for their happiness and an end to their difficulties. Wish the following for them;  May you be peaceful, May you be happy, May you live your life with ease.

This was the first mediation where I noticed a huge shift in my thinking patterns, especially when feelings of resentment and jealousy were arising.  This meditation can just take a few minutes a day, but it is so beneficial to your wellbeing it’s worth taking the time.   It helps cultivate compassion inside of us. When you see other people struggle, you’ll notice this more often, and wish for them to have an end to that struggle. It will take awhile, but if you do this daily (or as close as you can), I believe you’ll see a difference.

Understanding Compassion
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