Compassion is one of the few things we can practice that will bring immediate and long-term happiness in to our lives.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”.
This message from the Dalai Lama tells us that the secret to becoming happy doesn’t just lie within your self, but in your connections and interactions with others.
I’m sure we all agree that it’s a common purpose for each of us to strive to be happy. Are we actually aware that the key to happiness can be found in compassion?
From a scientific point of view research shows that people who practice compassion produce 100% more of the hormone DHEA, which counteracts the aging process and 23% less cortisol – the stress hormone.
How can we learn to be more compassionate?
The first step towards practicing compassion is to develop empathy for our fellow human beings. Some of us already believe that we have empathy on some level but don’t realise that also a lot of the time we are centred on ourselves. When the self takes over our empathy dissolves into the background and our ego becomes King.
One of the hardest things for us to do is to move beyond self-referencing. What we need to do is practice shifting our perspective away from exclusively thinking about how something affects ‘me’. Instead we need to ‘let go’ of the ‘It’s all about me’ mentality in order to expand our awareness beyond our self and make room for the connection that unites us with one another.
If you want to develop compassion in your life you will need to practice it throughout your day. We can mediate on it in the morning and evening. We can be compassionate while checking emails or on social media, think about it when interacting with others and reflect on it at the end of our day. If we do this regularly it becomes a part of our life.
Be a good listener
We can cultivate the habit of becoming a ‘big-hearted listener’. Listening with an open heart is a doorway to compassion and a tool for healing. Most of us don’t truly listen. We are often interrupting, judging what someone says or trying to fix them.
But truly listening creates a sacred silence and allows the other person to hear truth in themselves, often for the first time.
Let go of being judgemental
Make a point of releasing the intention to judge others by letting go of your own self-judgements. Stop and re-assess, observe and be aware of others predicament.
Be in the present
Practice being present with everyone you encounter. Refrain from looking at your phone. Avoid multi tasking, glancing at the TV or paying attention to anyone other than the one you’re with. Make eye contact, notice body language and use your emotional intelligence to really feel what the other person might be thinking. When you are truly present, your presence has a tendency to be experienced as compassion.
Practice something small each day
You can easily begin to practice compassion by doing something small each day. Even if it’s in a very minute way, it could be as simple as a smile, a kind word, or doing an errand, a chore or even just talking about a problem with another person. When we take the time to use these habits regularly, eventually they will become a natural extension of our personality all of the time.
Show compassion to those who are unkind
We also need to know how to be compassionate with those who mistreat us. We can do this by not getting angry, by removing ourselves from their bad behaviour. Later when we are calm and more detached we can reflect on the person who mistreated us.
We can practice noticing how the anger felt in our body and then we name it without judgement, take a deep breath and with a slow breath out, just let it go. When we act like this with calm control we actually help to ease the other person’s suffering.
It is helpful to try to imagine the mood and state of mind that the person was in – the suffering the person may have been going through in order to mistreat us that way. We can then understand that their action was not about us but more about what they were going through.
Set an intention to practice self-compassion, by adopting a kind and compassionate disposition towards your self. This is about noticing in our own headspace when these negative thoughts pop in, as soon as we are aware of them, we stop dwelling on the thoughts and let them go.
Yoga is one of the best ways to strengthen our self-compassion. Whatever type of yoga we are doing, we will be cultivating courage, presence, and compassion through tolerating elements of discomfort during the poses.
Settling into an uncomfortable, but not painful pose forces us to be aware of our body, to tune in to how it feels and be proud of our endurance to stick with it; hip openers, such as Pigeon pose are effective because they tend to reveal tightness and resistance.
To practice compassion is to be fully connected and present in any given moment, while accepting without judgement. Here we move from the head to the heart, which is full of compassion and love. The more we experience compassion the more we are able to sense what is hurting or making others suffer. It reminds us that we are not alone in this world that others are important too and through this deep connection we are more capable of feeling greater happiness and joy in our life.
Annie runs Mindfulness, Meditation and Yoga courses from her studio in East Molesey, Hampton Court, Surrey.
Annie is host to Yoga and Mindfulness Retreat in the Algarve, Portugal from 26 September - 1 October.
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