The new year can be notorious for bringing in a wave of mixed emotions connected to the past and the future. Feelings of regret, guilt, or dissatisfaction can mix with feelings of hope, optimism, and expectation. How can we look upon the past without judgement, and look towards the future with an open heart? Showing compassion towards ourselves and others is a great way to kick off 2018. Compassion has wonderful benefits including feeling connected to others, boosting our sense of well-being, and sparking the pleasure and reward centres in our brains. So what is compassion all about?
Compassion is recognizing and having an emotional response to one's own suffering or another person's suffering, while at the same time having a strong desire to help in some way. It is a combination of empathy and action.
The classic example of helping a little old lady with her groceries is about compassion. The bags are heavy. She may be fragile and struggling to carry them. You see her struggle, and you do something about it by asking to carry them to her car. This example is salient, because most people can empathize with an aging person who may not be in tip-top shape. Sometimes though, it is more difficult to show compassion towards ourselves or others when our initial emotional reaction does not come from a place of non-judgement. This is why sometimes compassion requires practice, thoughtfulness, and time. Want to give it a try? Well, should a grocery store full of blue-haired beauties not be an easily accessible way to show compassion this year, here are 5 more ideas:
1. Do a Good Deed
Random acts of kindness, paying it forward, or whatever catch phrase you prefer, get out there and do something for someone else. Some people feel like they need to sign up to volunteer or do something more organized or structured, but simply shovelling your neighbour's driveway might be one act that can get you started towards spotting opportunity to help others around each corner. Like Mother Theresa said, "Never worry about the numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you." Having a hard time thinking of something? Google it! There are so many ideas out there. You can download calendars that have a suggestion for each day. Then, look close to home for opportunities to help. For example, in Airdrie, Matt and Michelle Carre have created the Airdrie Angel network to help those in our community. It's amazing how many people, businesses, and organizations contribute. Simply buying a coffee at Good Earth on a day that proceeds go towards the #sharejoy campaign can help. See what's around in your neighbourhood, think about what you can offer, and go for it!
2. Start meditating
Image of dog meditating from Petspace
I recently listened to Sam Harris' podcast with psychologists and authors Daniel Goldman and Richard Davidson. They spoke about meditation and its connection with ethics. I have to admit, the concept of meditation as an ethical practice was new to me. Simplified, when you meditate, you become a better person for others. The trace benefits, or footprints in our day-to-day lives that are created by regular meditation, break down our sometimes self-interested view, and allow us to connect more deeply to others. I found this recognition of meditation as a starting point towards looking out for the collective good refreshing. Interestingly though, it's not a new idea. Meditation was always intended to be this way. Meditation, in our culture, is so commonly associated with healing or feeling better with regards to the individual practicing. Rarely is it embraced as an act of wellness that contributes to the well-being of those we interact with through deconstruction of ourselves. Mindfulness and meditation is a hot topic, therefore, you don't have to go far to find all kinds of starting points, including meditations specific to compassion. Running therapy provides a way for those who have a hard time sitting still to attain many of the same benefits of meditation by incorporating it into the running process. Gain insight into yourself and the world around you by giving it a try.
3. Go old-school
Kevin Dodge / Getty Images
Seems obvious and overly simple, but respecting your elders and practicing good manners needs to make a come back. Open the door for someone, anyone, just like that Tim Horton's commercial. Stand there for as long as necessary. Say please and thank you. Offer someone your seat or your spot in line. Let someone in the lane when you're in a rush. Say hello as you pass someone on the sidewalk. In our fast-paced world where often we no longer know our neighbours, and most of us have difficulty disconnecting from our screens, it may be fitting to take the future back in time. Let's reinvent pleasantries and civility by connecting with others through the simple gestures that make us social beings.
4. Listen without judgement or agenda
This can be really tough. Even for those of us in the business of listening to others. Because listening without judgment or agenda means no rescuing, no one-upping, no fixing, no interrupting, and no opinions. People have often used the term, active listening to describe the actions people need to take: lean in, nod, make eye contact, use an open posture, and avoid the temptation to look at your phone! While these are all important qualities, none is more important than your ability to do all of the above in such a way that shows you are genuine. When you paraphrase or repeat back what you think you heard, you are checking in with the person you are listening to. This reveals your own biases, beliefs, and preconceived notions, so you need to be able to allow the person to indicate when you've gotten it, or are way off base. Saying something like, "Let me know if I've got this right..." When someone is struggling, and sharing their experience with you, you might respond with something like:
Oh man, how you holding up?
That sounds tough.
How did you get through it?
I feel honoured that you felt okay about sharing this with me.
Another trick that many use is trying to keep this acronym in the forefront of your mind: WAIT or Why Am I Talking? Deconstruct a conversation you've had with someone close to you lately, and see if you were the fixer, the one-upper, the story teller, or so on and try to do better the next time.
5. Take time, spend time
Lastly, take the time to practice loving kindness with yourself and people already a part of your life. The previously mentioned tips can naturally be tested with the people you love and care about and will begin the ripple effect that really can change the world. Spend time with your loved ones and be present while doing so.
Also, spend time on yourself. Show yourself a little compassion by taking a few moments to appreciate those little moments that life can sometimes provide: coffee before the kids wake up, a hug that lasts a little longer than expected, your old favourite song coming on the radio, and the moment when someone shows you a little compassion. When we spend time with the ones we care about, and also take care of ourselves, we lay the foundation for compassion towards others outside of our immediate circle.
Wishing you love, kindness, and compassion in 2018.