Compassion is the empathy we have for others and the desire we have for their suffering to end. So why is it not more prevalent in our lives?
It’s a pretty intense challenge to wake up every day and root for everyone else’s suffering to end—not just those we love, but even those we compete against or hold grudges against, those we’ve not forgiven, those we’ve rooted against, those we’ve forgotten, and those we’ve called toxic.
One voice inside you is saying, “Wait! That’s not me!” and another voice is saying, “Well…there was that time…” and “Yeah, but she deserved it…” or “I was right, and he was wrong…” and then you realize that even the most saintly of us is human. And we’ve missed opportunities to help ease someone else’s pain by lacking compassion in a given moment.
But that doesn’t need to be the end of it. This could be the start of a powerful, personal transformation in which we cultivate compassion each day in our thoughts, words, and actions. By taking a few gentle steps each day, we can effortlessly awaken our compassion and receive this precious energy with grace and learn to flow it back out into the world.
Any constriction on either end—giving or receiving—will stop the organic stream of this vital nectar, and then we will find ourselves in a given moment lacking compassion or, even worse, lacking self-compassion.
But we can get back in the flow by cultivating a daily practice that will give our lives greater purpose, deeper fulfillment, bigger impact, and more love.
Although we can’t go back in time to change the past, starting right now, we can experience greater wholeness by cultivating a daily practice of compassion. Here are eight easy steps that will generate a profound shift in your life.
1. Start a Daily Heart-Opening Practice
As you awake, drink in the moment with your eyes and feel gratitude for your first ten breaths, including anything that comes into your awareness during those forty-five seconds.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama starts each day with: “Today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
Create your own version to start your day, and as you say your heart opening words, stretch your arms out to the side and raise your heart forward.
Connecting to the stillness and silence within sets the table for everything that happens during the day.
Once you have started your day with meditation, everything flows a bit more easily. Meditation will help you more easily awaken your inner compassion. To learn how to finally bring meditation into your life, visit my blog at davidji.com where you can find free tools, tips, and techniques to connect you to your stillness and silence.
3. Awaken Your Empathy
The first step in cultivating compassion is to develop empathy for your fellow human beings. But you must first feel empathy for your own challenges. This is the full and total release of self-blame. Even if you simply begin that practice little by little, give yourself permission to make peace with yourself, forgive yourself, let go of the past, or at least loosen your grip a bit. Allow whatever emotions arise to flow through you. Don’t resist. Feel your own pain and allow it.
Then, like in a Metta meditation, begin radiating that emotion to include those in your immediate circle—feel the pain of your loved ones, friends, and co-workers. Then expand the circle to include acquaintances. Then those you don’t know. To shift from an “oh poor me” or “less than” mindset, look outside of yourself, and you’ll begin to feel the pain of others, even those you don’t know. That empathy will broaden your understanding and begin to strengthen that trait within you.
4. Tat Tvam Asi Affirmation
To move beyond the barriers that separate us, shift to seeing the one-ness of this sweet human collective that we are all a part of.
We are all the same beings expressing ourselves in eight billion different ways.
Tat Tvam Asi is Sanskrit for “you are that.”
To shift your perspective in less than a minute, focus on someone that you have been comparing yourself to—a friend, co-worker, colleague, relative, anyone that you have recently compared yourself to. Envision their face or the experience that involved them, and as you observe it in your mind’s eye, silently repeat tat tvam asi like a mantra over and over.
If you prefer saying the affirmation in English, you can use the affirmation: “I am that.”
When you notice yourself judging others throughout the day, invoke your affirmation.
5. Relief of Suffering Practice
Now that: a) your heart is open; b) you’ve spent time in stillness and silence; c) you’ve awakened your empathy; and d) you see your self as the other and the other as your self, now it’s time to flow it back out, to activate your compassion by truly desiring that another person be free from their suffering. This is where we evolve our empathy into compassion.
Focus on a person in your life. Focus on their pain. And then open your heart to them unconditionally. Feel their heart and your heart merge. See yourselves as one being. Feel their pain and wish for their suffering to end. It’s that simple. And by nurturing this daily practice, the quality (and quantity) of your compassion will continue to develop.
6. Act of Kindness Practice
This is where we move from the realm of thought to the tangible world, where we turn theory into reality. Ask yourself, “What would I like someone to do for me to help me end my suffering?” and “What can I do to help someone end their suffering?” This is actually a real-world physical practice, so everyday practice doing something small to help end the suffering of others—a smile, a wink, let their car cut in front of you, let them move ahead of you in line, text someone something sweet, volunteer to do an errand for someone struggling, pick up a piece of trash, quickly forgive a transgression. In time, this will become your way of living.
7. Grievance Awakening
For those looking to take compassion to the next level, here’s a powerful step in cultivating a true compassion practice. This begins—and you can do it in baby steps—by not only desiring to ease the suffering of those we like and love, but even those with whom we have a grievance.
See the other person as a baby—a sweet, innocent baby, no evil in their heart, a pure, harmless, blameless baby. And see their childhood—the agony that must have occurred to get them to their current state, and the suffering that has accompanied it over the course of their life.
Now remind yourself that the action you took issue with was not personal to you but about what the other person was going through.
As don Miguel Ruiz says, “They are living their dream—it’s not about you.”
Think about the suffering of that person, and envision trying to ease their suffering through your kindness.
Then, turn it around and make it personal. If you said something mean or acted in a way you regret and then the other person acted with kindness and compassion toward you, how would that make you feel? Would that help you make amends? Be better the next time? Would you be less likely to speak or act in that negative way again? Would you more likely be kind to that person?
8. And Lastly, Recapitulation
When it comes to meditation, one of the keys to making it consistent is to ritualize it. I’ve taught hundreds of thousands of people my morning meditation ritual RPM (Rise, Pee, Meditate) and my afternoon practice RAW (Right After Work). But if you don’t already have a regular meditation practice, you can start by making a commitment to wind down your day with a bit of stillness and silence either in the late afternoon or early evening.
This will pave the way for the practice of recapitulation—essentially, playing your day in fast-forward in five minutes as the very, very, very last thing you do before you go to bed.
Start with the moment you woke up and just “play your day.” Think about the people you met and talked to, don’t go deep, just play it, and when you realize you’re drifting away or starting to daydream or go into detail, then go right back to the movie of your day. At the end of each day, ask “Did I act compassionately to others today?” “Where could I be more compassionate?” “What did I learn today?” “What did I learn about myself today?”
As I have stressed over the years, ritualizing what you care about is the best way to integrate a new behavior into your life. If you practice these eight steps to cultivating compassion in your life, everyday for only one week, you will feel the entire galaxy shift.
For more guidance on cultivating spirit into your life, join me for me my Hay House online meditation workshop.
davidji is a certified Vedic Master and a teacher of stress management, emotional healing, and conscious choice-making. He is the author of the best-selling Secrets of Meditation: A Practical Guide to Inner Peace & Personal Transformation and the creator of the award-winning guided meditation CD Fill What is Empty; Empty What is Full. Visit davidji.com for free tools, tips, and techniques to take your practice to the next level and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
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