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It’s our own hearts that suffer when we lose our sense of compassion. It can happen when we experience anger, resentment, hurt or even disappointment.  I know that when I do this, and believe me it happens to the best of us, I am the one who ends up suffering in the end. I suffer the physiological changes that the emotions of anger and resentment trigger in my body, heart and mind. I suffer from the disconnection that results when I’m not able to honor or respect the hearts of others. When we lose sight of those around us and get lost in our own story, we begin to see others as separate from ourselves.

 It’s the feeling of separateness that allows us to hurt others.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to get angry with someone on the phone, or with someone when you are driving in a car? If you saw them face-to-face and could feel their hearts and understand what it might be like to be them, would you behave differently? It’s the feeling of separateness that allows us to hurt others.

We trick ourselves into believing that we are not like that person, “we would never behave that way,” and therefore we are different and entitled to be unkind. If we could hear their story and understand their experience, however, our hearts might beat as one. We might feel a sense of compassion for their choices and behaviors.

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Having compassion means we allow ourselves to feel what its like to be in someone else’s shoes. We may not make the same choices, but perhaps we are able to see how they got to where they are. This spacious assignment of our own understanding can dissolve barriers and heal hearts.

This is the path of the peaceful warrior. It is a path that takes resolve, practice and buoyancy. The path of compassion invites us to be able to sit with the experiences of others and hold them in a place of respectful understanding.

How can we become more understanding when our default has been to lash out? We may not lash out all the time, but in times of stress it’s the place we go. It’s an unconscious place brought on by our own distress. In those moments, how can we make a different choice, a choice that allows our hearts to stay open?

There is training for this kind of gentleness. It arises from the yogic observances called the Yamas and Niyamas. These are practices that allow us to live in harmony with ourselves and others. The first of these is called Ahimsa, non-harming, love and respect for all beings. It is the foundation for Mahatma Gandhi’s movement of non-violence, the Dalai Lama’s dedication to compassion at all costs, and for Martin Luther King’s civil disobedience movement. It has been the foundation of peace for thousands of people around the world.

Compassion Practice

There are many ways to practice, but here is one simple technique to get started.

  • Rest in a relaxing position either sitting up or lying down.
  • Imagine a person in your own life that you may be having trouble understanding, someone you care deeply for, but you may be having some rocky moments with.
  • Begin to imagine their face and hold that image in your mind for a few breaths. See if you can let that image move to your heart.
  • Now imagine what it might be like to have lived their life and to have the struggles that they have had with the upbringing that has shaped their life.
  • As you hold their image in your heart, begin to cultivate compassion and understanding for that person. This may take some time, but keep at it.
  • Cultivate a feeling of respect for the life they are living and the person they have become.
  • Keep sending compassion and understanding. Let it fill your heart.
  • In time, let their image and that feeling of compassion dissolve into your own heart.

This practice can be done whenever you feel yourself losing it with someone else. It can be done in small ways when you are driving and you feel yourself getting angry with someone on the road. It can be done when you are frustrated with a stranger on the phone. It can be done with those closer relationships you are struggling with. If you are experiencing a big conflict with someone, it is best to start practicing with those with who you are more at ease. It may take time to cultivate it in those tougher relationships, so don’t push yourself. Be patient. It can even be practiced with yourself.  Sometimes it’s ourselves who need it most; it is ourselves who we forget to be kind to.

This practice has the power to shape and renew your relationship with others. It is not a magic pill, but the effort you apply comes back to you in ways you may never have imagined.

Have you ever practiced compassion over anger, resentment, hurt or even disappointment?

 

Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

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