Compassion – Challenges Leading to Growth

This is the third post in the embody compassion series.

Compassion – Challenges Leading to Growth

In the previous posts on compassion, we have looked at what compassion is, the benefits of developing it and the steps we can take on our journey to a compassionate mindset.

As I have mentioned though, developing a compassionate mindset is a master work requiring a lifetime of effort. The road of development is all about learning from the challenges we face.

Compassion is the path, not the destination.


The definition of compassion places a strong focus on developing awareness of, and taking action to, alleviate the suffering of others. However, to embody compassion, means to apply it unbiasedly to all living beings.

That means being compassionate even to those that we may currently perceive as underserving because they are more materialistically wealthy than ourselves. Now that, sounds like a challenge!

One of the biggest arenas of challenge for people is in work. Money and power (hierarchical dominance) bring out both the best and worst in people.

A Trick to Perceive Common Existence

I have a little trick that I use at work when I am going in to a meeting with people that are more senior than me or, in to presentation where I need to talk to lots of people.

Remember, everyone shits.

Those people that are going to be sat across the table from you… I bet they all laid a big steaming turd this morning. That front row of the audience, imagine just how much shit that would be if you piled it all up!

Pretty gross but it appeals to my childish sense of humour and helps to remind me that we are all living and breathing humans. Job titles and fancy suits aside, we all feel fear and pain; and shit.

It is important to use a tactic such as this to focus on your sense of common existence. Levelling the playing field by manifesting a perception that all humans are equally deserving of life.

Find a way that works for you; shitting, breathing, putting trousers on one leg at a time, whatever works. The aim is for you clear the cloud of stress that is polluting your vision and for you to feel your rooted connection as part the earth and everything on it. When you are grounded and viewing the world through unbiased eyes, you can engage with people sincerely.

It is not easy though.

You Can Only Control Yourself

When you approach someone with a compassionate mindset and they do not reciprocate your approach, it can be extremely frustrating.

Why is that person being such a jerk? Can’t they see that I am trying to help them?

This can be compounded if it is a work situation and the person you are engaging with is more senior than you. In situations like these, if you feel frustrated; take a step back, pause, and instead choose to be fascinated. You can do this after the event as part of your daily reflection as well.

Don’t get frustrated, get fascinated.

Frustration is rooted in anger. Allow the feelings of anger to bubble up from inside you. Let it flow freely and observe it. Don’t grab it, don’t feel it. Just watch it drift on by. Be curious and ask where did it come from…

Are you getting angry because you are concerned by the other persons negative perception of the situation? Is it because they are not acknowledging your good intentions and that somehow it means there is a negative reflection on you? Is it really about your ego being bothered that someone is besmirching your good name?

These challenges represent an opportunity to seek spiritual growth in every aspect of your life. Both at home and at work.

Every interaction, with every person; is an opportunity to practice, learn and grow. Failing a challenge is painful; but when we learn from our failures, we recapture the energy lost through pain and transform it in to growth.

Growing hurts!

Me Me Me

As children we learn how to get what we want, especially when things are not going our way. To do this we develop little tactics of influencing and manipulating the people that are around is so that outcomes are shaped to our desires.

The specific collection of tactics and how we choose to deploy them are unique to every single human. Well, same same but different. The key point here is that we develop these strategies in childhood but they can still manifest in adulthood. Maybe not in the exact same way, but the same drivers sit at the root of our behaviours.

When we are operating in this frame of perception and exhibiting behaviour to “get what we want”, we can refer to this as being in our adapted child ego state. Ego states in a nut shell are where we are almost running on autopilot and letting our behaviour be driven by past feelings and experiences. A bit like a dog that becomes fixated on chasing a cat, we need a way to snap out of it.

When I have found myself in a selfish, greedy, self-centred mindset (think about you saying I want this and I want that and to hell with everyone else…) there is a little visualisation that I perform to help me snap out of it.

Snapping Out of It

The visualisation is from the book How to Practice – The Way to a Meaningful Life by HH Dalai Lama. Here I will quote the specific passage from the text:


The following visualization technique is very helpful in daily practice.

  1. You remain calm and reasonable.
  2. In front of you to the right, imagine another version of yourself who is a solid mass of egotistical self-centredness, the kind of person who would do anything to satisfy an urge.
  3. In front of you to the left, visualize a group of poor people who are not related to you, including some who are destitute, needy, suffering.
  4. Be calm and unbiased as you observe these two sides. Now think, “Both want happiness. Both want to shed suffering. Both have the right to accomplish these goals.”
  5. Consider this: We often work long and hard for a better salary, or we spend a great deal of money in hopes of gaining even more; we are willing to make temporary sacrifices for a long-term return. By the same logic it makes perfect sense for one single person to make sacrifices in order to help a larger good. Naturally your mind will favour the side with the greater number of suffering people. As an unbiased observer, consider your own egotistical self there at your right side, neglecting the welfare of so many, no matter how terrible their suffering. It simply is not good to be like this. Though both sides that you are visualizing have an equal right to happiness, there is no way to avoid the overwhelming need of the greater number. The point is that you yourself must serve and help other beings.

That state of mind is undeniably difficult, but if your practice with great determination, then year by year your mind will change, will improve.

A little tactic to zoom out our perspective and put our wants in to the context of the whole. Shaping our own perception to enable us to be the human that we want to be.

Enjoy, for now.

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