Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Compassion feeds the soul. It brings new found awareness and understanding to the human experience. It cultivates deep empathy and brings us all closer together as a human family. You already have compassion within you, even if sometimes you find some days more difficult than others to see it.
But compassion is our true nature as human beings. It is founded on a deep love, reverence and respect that we all have for this life and each other. Deep down you know that we are all connected. But it is this belief of dis-connection that is leading us astray from our path of spirituality and learning. Those who do harm to others and the natural world do not realise that they are also hurting themselves, leading them down a darker path of hatred and fear.
If more of us, however, wake up to our true nature and live our lives with true compassion and grace, we can bestow this learning onto others. We can be a beacon of light and love, changing our relationships and transforming our world for the better.
So how do we cultivate more compassion in our lives?
1. Learn To Love Yourself First
We cannot show compassion to others if we do not first know how to cultivate it within our own hearts. We need to first fill our cup first and do this can take time.
We can be hard wired to go into self critical mode if something in our lives goes wrong or we fall short of an expectation we believe we needed to meet.
In my own journey to self love I had to learn what my inner critic was telling me and why. If I did something wrong I would feel awful for days, even months as my mind would bring back the memory of failure just because I felt like I deserved the torture. My inner critic was very harsh, abusive even because of how much I hated myself. It took a long time to love all aspects of myself but if I can do it you can too.
The first step is loving that harsh critic, the one that tells you your not good enough or that you are a failure. Love her/him with all your heart. They are wounded, crying for attention and likely holding onto past pain because of something someone did or said to them in the past. See your critic as a child. Imagine smiling at them and embracing them. Send them so much love from your heart and kiss them on the head. Tell your critical child how much you love them. Do this practice often, everyday if you can or anytime you find yourself being berated by your inner critic.
2. Practice Compassionate Meditation
Meditation, especially in Buddhist practices, is the key component to living with more compassion. When we place our awareness on our hearts and visualise increasing our capacity to love not only ourselves but those around us we can learn to bring this practice out into daily life.
Do this simple meditation practice on a daily basis to start cultivating more compassion and empath within.
1. Sit with your spine erect and your feet on the floor. Allow yourself to be relaxed but not too relaxed that you fall asleep. Breathe deeply in and out, counting your breathe up to 10, visualising your breathe relaxing all parts of your body.
2. Let your mind gently rest in the awareness of the present moment. Notice any sounds and just allow them to move through you without control or judgement. Just be.
3. Bring your attention to your heart space. Visualise a beautiful pink light within your heart. This represents the love that you hold. As you breathe in imagine breathe deeply into this light and see the love you hold expanding outwards. With every in-breathe feel this love increase and expand into all areas of your body. Feel the very cells of your being being enveloped in this loving light.
4. As you send and feel this love within yourself imagine now that you are sending it to someone in your life you love. It could be a family member, a friend, a child or even a pet. See them bathe in this beautiful light.
5. Now imagine sending this loving energy out across your home town or village. See it move through every person nearby. Then expand it out even further so it moves across your country, till eventually the whole world and every living being on it. Feel this connection to all aspects of life and allow your love to transform the world.
3. Practicing Kindness
When you understand that we are all connected then it becomes easier to come to the conclusion that we all want the same thing.
To be free from suffering and to be happy.
So when you come across someone in a bad mood or having a bad day instead of taking on that energy or feeling somehow responsible for someone else’s mood, instead practice kindness and compassion by holding space for them to feel and express their emotions.
We all go through moments of anger, frustration and fear. But rather than taking those emotions out on others, the practice of compassion means that we take responsibility for our own energy, focusing on healing and being kind to ourselves. So practicing kindness starts with yourself first. When you can be kind to yourself, even on the bad days we can then learn to truly be kind to others. When you come across someone suffering, see him or her as if they are your own family or even yourself. How would you like to be treated? What could someone say to you to make you feel better? You can transform lives just with our words or actions.
The hardest part of living a life with more compassion is to keep the practice up. It’s not that it doesn’t come naturally. But it’s more because it is not something we have been taught to cultivate within ourselves. We can see that our world lacks compassion just by the fact that wars, violence and hatred is on the rise. But this has also meant an increase in spiritual teachers who have paved the way to what living with more compassion looks and feels like. The late great zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh was faced with the horrors of war in Vietnam. He saw children being killed and the country he loved being torn apart. It was during his darkest moments he decided to found the Schools where he taught Zen Buddhism and helped those who needed it the most to find healing and refuge. His teachings have reached all across the world and all because of his compassion that all of humanity deserve to be free of suffering. Let us all live with compassion in our hearts.
Learn more about the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh through the Plum Village website here.
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