I want people to have more compassion in their lives. Most of us were never taught intentional practices for compassion. Being compassionate (often misconstrued by culture as “being nice”) was often just an ideal set out before us. Another way to make us feel “not good enough” and unworthy.
So below, I’m going to lay out five tools I use to practice the skill of compassion. Please don’t hear “you must do all these things”. I really imagine this list as an invitation for you to just pick one new tool to start practicing on a daily basis.
Meditation. This is on probably every list of “compassionate practices” you’ve read. That’s because it works. Twice a day, sit for 20-30 minutes and put your full attention on your breath, a mantra, a piece of holy scripture, or even just one positive word. More and more scientific studies are coming out confirming that meditation reshapes our neural pathways in such a way that it increases brain activity in areas associated with self-control, compassion, empathy, and reason.
Forgiveness. Forgiving isn’t forgetting. And sometimes it takes me weeks before I am willing to forgive. I normally can’t forgive someone until I’ve allowed my emotions to be fully expressed and validated. But the longer I hold onto those painful emotions and that enemy image of the other, the harder it is to forgive, and the less compassion I have, not only towards that person but also in general. To make this a daily practice, sit down at the end of each day and write down something someone did that hurt you. Give yourself permission to express all the emotion you have about that. And I really mean all the emotions you have about it. You don’t need the other person to be present to do this; you could do it alone or with another loving and supportive friend. After you’ve expressed your emotions return to what you’ve written down and try to say out loud “I forgive you”. If the words sound forced or hollow, you probably need to express some more emotion. If you experience a peaceful release then you know you’ve done it. Give yourself permission to star certain items and return to them on future days or weeks if you’re still not ready to forgive.
Self-Empathy. This is a big one. Truly connecting with my own feelings and core needs, values, or desires really helps me have more compassion. This can involve translating my self-critical messages into feelings and needs. Like when I hear that inner critic in my head say “You’re not working hard enough”, I translate it into “I feel scared and anxious that I am not going to accomplish enough and that I’m not being efficient.” Self-empathy can also just involve taking a moment to acknowledge when I got hurt throughout the day and connecting with the feelings and needs I had in that moment. This is not just an intellectual exercise, it must move beyond that or else you won’t get the desired effect. Again carve out intentional time each day to sit down and do this with either your self-criticisms or with moments where others hurt you.
Empathy towards others. This is the act of connecting with the feelings and needs in another person. Again, this is not just an intellectual exercise, and if it doesn’t get past the place of “analyzing” then you are really only connecting with the mental image of the other person you have constructed in your head. Think about those people in your life that get under your skin. Think about the specific actions or words they say that drive you nuts. Try to imagine and connect with the feelings and needs in those words or actions.
Expressing gratitude. Another popular tool on lists such as this. You need to actually express thanks and appreciations to others. A simple “thank you” really won’t suffice. Share with the other person how you felt and what needs, values, or core desires their action really fulfilled in you. This helps both of you have a deep understanding of how you were positively impacted by another person’s actions. So make it a regular habit to express gratitude with your friends, partner, or family.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.