When we are happily meditating and feeling at one with the universe, or when blessings are raining down upon us, it is easy to extend compassion to others. Compassion, we often think, is after all based in good will toward others. But what if this were not so? What if compassion, instead of being something that essentially requires us to be in the right mood, were based more in our deep selves? What if compassion needed only the knowledge that we want the best outcome- as we say in my coven, “the highest possible good for all.” How would that change our response when a stranger yells at us for biking or when we are disappointed by the decision of a friend or when we feel over-run by rambunctious children? How can we stay present in these moments and trigger a shift to this deeper consciousness? Here are some steps that I follow.
First, I take a deep breath. Whatever emotion I am experiencing in the moment, be that anger, fear, frustration, disappointment- I release it. I let it flow out of myself, envisioning it happening as easily and naturally as I exhale. I take as many breaths as I need to find my calm center.
Second, I remind myself that everyone has reasons for what they do. Those reasons may seem stupid or be invisible from the outside. Nonetheless, they are present, real and motivating for their actors. I will never forget the training where we brainstormed reasons a person might stay in an abusive relationship, or how startlingly extensive those reasons were. People, no matter how difficult it might be for me to see, are acting in their own interests.
The third step, entwined with the second, is to let go of my judgments. I do not know best. I am not inside anyone’s head, heart, or life.
Lastly, I respect others’ agency. Or in other words, I let people make their own choices. I trust that they are following the path they need to follow. Even- especially!- when it doesn’t make sense to me. I want everyone to get their needs met, regardless of whether I share those needs or can meet them myself. (The poly metaphor of it all nearly knocks me over.)
If in the moment of someone swearing out their window at me, I can breathe through the anger and remember that they may be rushing from a job where their boss kept them late to their daughter’s first piano recital which they’re worried about being on time for, if I can remember they may be temporarily too caught up in their own fear and worry to see me as anything more than another delay, then I might be able to find in myself a little more compassion for them.