|C. Coimbra photo|
These are four main steps covered in the course that are key to cultivating compassion. Here’s an overview of what they are and how to integrate them into your life.
Step 1: Mindfulness
You can’t offer compassion if you don’t see the suffering around you. Mindfulness allows you to see what’s happening within and around you.
Mindfulness is the “awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment—non-judgmentally,” according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, father of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
Put your phone down, shut your laptop, take a few deep breaths, and observe your own body and mind. Do you feel tightness anywhere, is your mind replaying something you did “wrong,” or are you worrying about something you can’t control? Notice, accept, and breathe.
Then take a look around and notice what’s happening around you. What do you see? What do you hear and smell?
Step 2: Compassion for a Loved One
In traditional Tibetan Buddhism, a loving-kindness or metta meditation begins with compassion for one’s self. Many Westerners don’t understand what self-compassion means. Think about it: We are taught to take care of others, give back, and go, go, go. No one teaches us to tend to our own suffering.
It makes sense, then, to start by having compassion for someone who can easily conjure up compassionate feelings within you. This can be a pet, a friend, a family member, or anyone who gives you “warm fuzzies.”
Step 3: Compassion for Yourself
This is a tricky one for many. Have you ever paid attention to how you speak to yourself?
Perhaps you’re overly critical with yourself or use harsh words. You might think you’re letting yourself off the hook too easily if you don’t reprimand yourself for every single mistake you make.
Research indicates the opposite. High levels of self-compassion have been linked to less procrastination, and people with self-compassion are more likely to take ownership for their own mistakes. Self-compassion is also linked to greater happiness, more optimism, and less depression.
Try treating yourself as you would treat a good friend, and recognize that you are not alone.
Step 4: Common Humanity
You might find that it’s relatively easy to be compassionate toward family, friends, and others like you. For example, I feel empathy for the single mom who is struggling to balance motherhood, career, and her friendships. If I hear about a passionate entrepreneur who is having doubts about his abilities, I’m ready to listen and help. I can identify with these people, and compassion flows naturally.
...The challenge is to recognize the basic commonality between all humans. Consider that everyone you meet (or don’t meet) wants to be happy. Everyone has a mind, and everyone has a body and heartbeat. Everyone has dreams. Everyone has fears. Everyone wants to be loved.
This takes some practice, but it may change the way you interact with the world. Once you start recognizing that everyone deserves your compassion, you will feel more connected to the world.
Practicing the above four steps will help you face the suffering you encounter each day. Suffering is everywhere, and it isn’t going anywhere.
Fortunately, neither is compassion.
--Excerpted from the Chopra Center