A reader wrote to me that he is frustrated with himself — he hasn’t been as compassionate to people as he’d like recently.
Lots of us experience this: we’re judgmental, quick to snap at people, getting frustrated with how other people act, judging people who have different beliefs than us.
The reader who wrote to me is actually aware of being judgmental — most of us don’t even realize when we’re doing it. We think we’re right to judge others, to be frustrated with them, to snap in anger.
This reader, in contrast, sees the less-than-friendly actions he takes and sees that they’re not aligned with the good person he wants to be, the compassionate person he is at heart. He sees the less friendly actions and wants to change them. That is worthy of celebration.
In this primer, 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!
The Basics of Being UnderstandingWhen 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.
- 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.
- 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 judgmental.
- Ask how you can see the good-hearted explanation. Ask how you can explain the other person’s behavior in a good-hearted way. There’s an explanation that makes the other person seem inconsiderate, ignorant, wrong. And then there’s one that assumes the other person has good-hearted intentions. This isn’t always easy, but if someone is doing something irritating, we might assume they are just trying to be happy. When someone lashes out at you, they might be experiencing fear. We might assume this fear means they want to protect their tender hearts. There’s always a good-hearted way to explain an action, even one we might think of as evil. We don’t have to condone that action, but we can see the tender heart that lies beneath it.
- 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.
A Simple Compassion MethodIf you can empathize 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.
- Simply sit still and picture yourself in pain or stress (from your actions, or from other things). Feel it in your body.
- Wish yourself happiness. Wish for an end to your difficulties. Give yourself some love.
- Now repeat this with a loved one, picturing them in pain. Wish for an end to their difficulties, wish for their happiness, send them love.
- Repeat the process with a good friend, a colleague, a neighbor, and a stranger.
- Finally, picture everyone in the world, and wish for their happiness and an end to their difficulties.