Can you relate to this type of morning?
I sweetly ask my daughter, Hannah, to rise and shine. Fifteen minutes and five more (not as sweet) requests later, she finally gets out of bed. I then realize that we don’t have milk, which means dry cereal again. Hannah laughs and calls me “The Forgetter” (the not-so-endearing nickname she’s given me), and I laugh. But inside I’m feeling inadequate and ashamed.
Then I drive Hannah to school. Sitting in traffic, I stew in frustration. Her dad moved 30 miles away, and I’m stuck with the burden of the long commute. I can feel the bitter feelings of a painful divorce bubbling up. My back begins to hurt, I’m late for a meeting, and Hannah is complaining of a stomachache.
It’s not even 8:30AM, yet I have already felt sadness, anger, and frustration. I haven’t read today’s heartbreaking story about the latest ISIS victims, I haven’t crossed paths with the homeless people in my neighborhood, and I’ve yet to call my friend who can’t find work.
Suffering surrounds us, and it’s hard to take. Sometimes I avert my eyes or run away from it, but somehow suffering always catches up with me.Tweet It!
Thanks goodness for compassion. Because of compassion, I’m learning to stay present with suffering without running from it, without getting overwhelmed, and without pretending that it doesn’t exist.
How does compassion help? You may have heard the Dalai Lama quote, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” There’s a good amount of science to back up that statement.
Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and education created Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) I’m a certified teacher of the course, and I’d love to share four of the main steps of CCT with you.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” - Dalai LamaTweet It!
Step 1 – Mindfulness
We can’t offer compassion if we don’t see suffering. Mindfulness allows us to notice what’s happening within and around us.
I have a proposal. Let’s all put our phones away, move away from our computers, take three deep breaths and notice what’s happening in our own bodies and minds. Is there tightness? Are we thinking about something we did “wrong”? Are we worrying about something that’s out of our control? Let’s notice, accept, and breathe.
Step 2 – Compassion for a Friend or Family Member
A loving/kindness meditation typically begins with compassion for one’s self, yet we often can’t easily connect with the concept of self-compassion. We are taught to take care of others, give back, and push forward. No one teaches us to take care of our own suffering.
Before we practice the next step (self-compassion), it can be easier to first connect to the feeling of compassion for others. That’s where this step comes in. Having compassion for a loved one allows us to practice compassion for someone that can easily conjure up compassionate feelings within us. This can be a pet, a friend, a family member, or anyone that easily gives us “warm fuzzies.”
Step 3 – Self-Compassion
After we get our compassion juices flowing, we can direct that feeling toward ourselves.
For many people, this is a difficult step. Have you ever paid attention to your inner voice? (Watch this Dove commercial for a perfect example of this.) We often use harsh words and are overly critical of ourselves.
Research indicates that self-compassion benefits us in many ways. People with self-compassion are more likely to take ownership for their own mistakes, and higher levels of self-compassion have been linked to less procrastination. Not to mention the fact that self-compassion is linked to greater happiness.
Step 4 – Common Humanity
It’s time to broaden this circle of compassion. After cultivating awareness and learning how to feel compassion and aim it toward ourselves, we can strengthen our compassionate attitudes by extending it to everyone around us.
I find it pretty easy to offer compassion toward my family and friends. It’s not as easy for me to have compassion for people I don’t know or for people whom I don’t particularly like.
This step challenges us to recognize the basic commonalities between all humans. Every person has a mind, and every person has a body and heartbeat. Every person has hopes. Every person has fears. Every person wants to be accepted.Tweet It!
Practicing the above four steps will help us step up to the suffering we encounter each day. Unfortunately, suffering isn’t going anywhere.
Fortunately, neither is compassion.
Experience the above four steps during the month of October through COMPASSION IT’s 30-Day Compassion Challenge. Sign up here.
Sara Schairer is the founder and executive director of COMPASSION IT, a start-up nonprofit organization and global social movement whose mission is to inspire daily compassionate actions and attitudes. Her organization offers compassion education programs to various audiences around the world, and it sells the one-of-a-kind reversible COMPASSION IT wristband prompting compassionate actions on six continents, 48 countries, and all 50 states. A Stanford-certified instructor of Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT), Sara has taught CCT at the UCSD Center for Mindfulness, Kaiser Permanente, the Naval Medical Center, and has led compassion trainings in Africa sponsored by the Botswana Ministries of Health and Education.
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