“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama
Seven Compassion Practices (from Leo Babauta – http://zenhabits.net/about/)
- Morning ritual. Greet each morning with a ritual. Try this one, suggested by the Dalai Lama: “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.”
- Empathy Practice. The first step in cultivating compassion is to develop empathy for your fellow human beings. Many of us believe that we have empathy, and on some level nearly all of us do. But many times we are centered on ourselves and we let our sense of empathy get rusty. Try this practice: Imagine that a loved one is suffering. Something terrible has happened to him or her. Now try to imagine the pain they are going through. Imagine the suffering in as much detail as possible. After doing this practice for a couple of weeks, you should try moving on to imagining the suffering of others you know, not just those who are close to you.
- Commonalities practice. Instead of recognizing the differences between yourself and others, try to recognize what you have in common. With your attention geared to the other person, tell yourself:
- Step 1: “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
- Step 2: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
- Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.”
- Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.”
- Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”
- Relief of suffering practice. Once you can empathize with another person, and understand his or her humanity and suffering, the next step is to want that person to be free from suffering. This is the heart of compassion – actually the definition of it. Try this exercise: Imagine the suffering of a human being you’ve met recently. Now imagine that you are the one going through that suffering. Reflect on how much you would like that suffering to end. Reflect on how happy you would be if another human being desired your suffering to end and acted upon it. Open your heart to that human being and if you feel even a little that you’d want their suffering to end, reflect on that feeling. That’s the feeling that you want to develop. With constant practice, that feeling can be grown and nurtured.
- Act of kindness practice. Now that you’ve gotten good at the fourth practice, take the exercise a step further. Imagine again the suffering of someone you know or met recently. Imagine again that you are that person, and are going through that suffering. Now imagine that another human being would like your suffering to end – perhaps your mother or another loved one. What would you like for that person to do to end your suffering? Now reverse roles: you are the person who desires for the other person’s suffering to end. Imagine that you do something to help ease the suffering or end it completely. Once you get good at this stage, practice doing something small each day to help end the suffering of others, even in a tiny way.
- Those who mistreat us practice. The final stage in these compassion practices is to not only want to ease the suffering of those we love and meet, but even those who mistreat us. When we encounter someone who mistreats us, instead of acting in anger, withdraw. Later, when you are calm and more detached, reflect on that person who mistreated you. Try to imagine the background of that person. Try to imagine what that person was taught as a child. Try to imagine the day or week that person was going through, and what kind of bad things had happened to that person. Try to imagine the mood and state of mind that person was in – the suffering that person must have been going through to mistreat you that way. And understand that their action was not about you, but about what they were going through.
- Evening routine. I highly recommend that you take a few minutes before you go to bed to reflect upon your day. Think about the people you met and talked to, and how you treated each other. Think about your goal that you stated this morning, to act with compassion towards others. How well did you do? What could you do better? What did you learn from your experiences today? And if you have time, try one of the above practices and exercises.