This is the second post in the choose to embody compassion series.
How to Develop Compassion
Leading on from the choosing to embody compassion post; the tools and activities outlined in this post are designed to help you create the right foundations within yourself to develop a compassionate mindset. You could choose to give them a go and find out what works for you.
This is the first and most important activity. You need to decide if developing compassion is something that you actually want to prioritise in your life. If it is, then get yourself a journal or just a plain old piece of paper and write your commitment down. Me writing this out is just like a form of commitment!
I will prioritise developing a more compassionate mindset and I will accept full responsibility for my actions and interactions with other people.
The act of writing something down solidifies it in your mind. It strengthens the neural network associated to that thought in your mind and links it to a physical act. The act of writing.
When you think of compassion, you will then see the words written by you hand in your mind, and remember the feeling of writing your commitment with conviction.
Don’t wait. If you want to do it, do it right now.
Mindfulness is simply having your focus on the present moment. Being fully conscious. Not being occupied with thoughts about psychological time being splurged from your ego; just focusing on the here and now.
In the simple tip for tranquillity post we looked at an easy way to bring your focus to the present moment. It helps you centre your focus and become present. We also expanded on this concept further in the intermittent fasting for the mind post. If you have not read them, I suggest it would be beneficial to take a look.
The act of maintaining and expanding your mindful presence can be achieved through the practice of activities such as meditation and yoga. Mindfulness is a skill and needs to be practiced to be improved.
When we are fully conscious and aware, there is a stillness to our mind like the glassy waters of a lake. When the lake is still, we can then detect the ripples as they happen. This awareness affords us the ability to choose what happens next.
Develop Emotional Awareness
Emotional awareness if the first step towards emotional maturity and intelligence – knowing how to live harmoniously with your emotions.
Emotions are the ripples on the lake. Ripples which only occur when the waters are not in equilibrium.
Mindfulness supports emotional awareness. If the waters of the lake are all choppy then it will be impossible to see the ripples let alone work out what caused them.
Being emotionally aware is all about knowing what is happening in your internal world, and understanding the equilibria between the outer world and your inner world. Once you become more emotionally aware, you will then be able to better develop empathy for others.
We are all the same but different. Between different individuals, the causes and effects of our emotions may be slightly different, but the process of our minds are fundamentally the same. This means that the experience of our own journey of discovery will help us to understand the journey of others.
Being Kind to Yourself
Remember the principle of be the change? Choosing to become emotionally aware is tantamount to choosing to be curious. Curiosity allows us to identify the choices we can make, and empowers us to take responsibility for our decisions.
Applying curiosity, responsibility and choice we can conclude that how we feel about ourselves and as such talk to ourselves in our own internal dialogue is a choice that we have the power to make.
We make mistakes. Failure is at time an inevitable consequence of making choices and taking action. It however, can be perceived as simply and opportunity to learn. For this reason, it is important to put our actions in to context so that we avoid judging ourselves too harshly, or even judging ourselves at all. Learning to accept ourselves for who we are.
Think about a pet that you have or have had, or think about your child if you have one. Imagine them in distress because they have made a mistake and hurt themselves.
What would you say to them? What would you want to do to help?
Why would you treat yourself any differently?
Being kind to yourself is a subject we have explored in another couple of posts: why you can always expect your best and how to find the answer you are looking for. If you have not read them, it may be helpful to take a look.
Practice Active Listening
Compassion manifests in our relationships. Our relationships revolve around the exchange of information, or you could say the transference of energy. Giving and receiving.
Active listening is another skill, which means it needs to be practiced if you want to improve it. It is about actually trying to understand what the other person is saying and encouraging them to talk openly and honestly, not just hearing their words. Active listeners focus on the conversation at hand, fully.
You could say it is like a form of mindful meditation where the focus is the other person.
It is important to provide verbal and non-verbal acknowledgement to the other person to indicate that you are interested in what they have to say. This could be simply smiling, nodding or responding with a “Mmmhmm”. Maintaining appropriate levels of eye contact and a relaxed but engaged posture is important while you give the other person time and space to speak.
If you are jumping in with questions, or even worse attempting to provide advice or even passing judgement on them, you are not doing much listening.
Active listening is fundamental to effective communication and the development of meaningful relationships. Through active listening you develop the awareness to allow the other persons ripples to flow on to your lake. Learning to share and feel their emotions.
If you set out on your day with the intention to be more compassionate. Take a few minutes at the end of the day to run back and reflect on the interactions you have had. What worked well and what did not? How did you feel before, during and after the interactions? How do you think the other person felt?
Try to identify one thing that went well. Make a mental note and look to repeat and build on it.
Try to identify one thing that could have been better. Reflect to understand how you can improve it or simply not repeat it. Pick that one small growth area to improve on the following day.
Little by little, one step at a time we climb the mountain.
There is no rigidly defined path for the development of compassion. We are all unique individuals and these are just some of the approaches that you could choose to use. Fundamentally you simply need to first decide then take action to find what works for you.
True compassion is not an easy thing to develop. It takes time and the practice must start in our own internal world before we can meaningfully attempt to project it in to our outer world.
In this post we have seen how the principles of be the change and establish equilibrium complement each other to underpin the principle of choosing to embody compassion. Cement the processes at play by making the right choices to prioritise increasing your vitality and monitor what is going on by speaking sincerely to yourself. There you have a recipe for growth and personal evolution.
Enjoy, for now.