So many of our experiences depend on the colour of the lens we look at life through. Rose-tinted, we see blindly positive. Or dull and askew, we see through a filter of pessimism. But, it’s possible to tweak your lens to see through the most open, passionate lens of all: compassion. Learning to practice compassion takes the unravelling of all kinds of prejudices, thought patterns and habits, but these 5 mindsets will help you start your journey towards being more compassionate.
“There is a nobility in compassion, a beauty in empathy, a grace in forgiveness.” – John Connolly
1. We’re all connected
Every spirituality book sings of the concept of ‘oneness’. This feeling of connection to everyone and everything is a big factor in unlocking our compassion. Prejudice, discrimination, and biases, will each hold you back from practising unconditional compassion.
Compassion with the people we love, and those we’re used to, comes quite naturally, but it’s more difficult with those outside of your circle. But, most of the opportunity in your life will come from people outside of your circle, when you’re expanding your horizons and pushing your comfort zone. Practising compassion towards everyone will help you maximise your chances to use that opportunity, as well as creating greater experiences with those people.
Studies show that it’s much easier for us to empathise with others when we have something in common. So find some common ground. If you’re really stuck, remember that at your rawest, you’re both humans fighting to survive in the same world, trying to create the best life you can for you and your loved ones.
2. Those who hurt are hurt themselves
If someone does you wrong, it’s natural to withdraw from them, reacting defensively or aggressively in return. But, most of the time, it’s not about you.
People displace their problems all the time. Maybe you snapped at your mum on the phone after a stressful day at work. Maybe someone cuts in line or acts rudely towards you because they’re tired and stressed.
Each of us has a story to tell and a battle to fight, so when facing these situations try to imagine how that person may be feeling. Empathy is the gateway to compassion. This doesn’t excuse or condone their actions, but it asks for you to respond with compassion and patience. Meeting aggression with aggression will never fix a thing.
3. Be everybody’s friend
Like we said earlier, it’s easier to be compassionate towards the people we love, so practising treating everyone (including yourself!) like you would your friends is a great way to start shaping your thoughts and actions to be more compassionate.
If your friend was in a tricky situation, chances are, you’d do everything in your power to help and support them. So apply this to everyone you meet.
As a child, every year at Christmas, my school would ask for small gifts/essentials for a children’s charity. We’d fill a shoebox with little things – clothing items, hairbrushes, plushy toys, pencils, pens, etc. and then we’d wrap it. The charity would then deliver it as a gift to a child somewhere around the world, who otherwise wouldn’t be receiving anything for Christmas. I remember, even as a kid, feeling joy in doing it, and feeling that the child who received my gift, even though I didn’t know them, was as close to me and as worthy of my compassion as any of my family or friends.
4. Any judgement can be changed
I can’t find the exact quote, but I once heard a phrase along the lines of: “You are not responsible for your first thought, only your second thought action and your first action”
And I loved it. It asks us to not to feel guilt or resentment for whatever we think first – those quick unconscious thoughts that stem from judgements, stereotypes, biases and societal messages – because they’re outside of our control. It’s natural to make judgements about people. It’s what our brains are built to do. But, we are responsible for what we do after having that thought and the thought that comes after it.
Imagine you see someone walking down the street, maybe you turn your nose up or feel fearful of them, but when you actually consider it, you realise you have no reason or evidence to be. So, you accept your first thought as a natural reaction but challenged it to create a more positive thought that’s better aligned with your conscious thoughts. Then, you smile at them as you walk past – your conscious action. In time, you’ll teach your brain to go straight to these reactions and you’ll learn compassion.
Being open and challenging your beliefs will help you practice compassion.
5. Self-compassion is just as important
It can be simple to be kind and loving outwards, whilst living in a world of turmoil and hatred. But ask yourself, why should you be any different to anyone else? What makes you so undeserving of the love you would so willingly give to others?
I feel like lots of people skip this step, but kindness truly does begin at home. If you wish to be truly compassionate, your intention for your compassion must stretch to everyone, including yourself.
A good way to tackle this is to speak to your inner child. Often, this is the part of us we berate, inground habits, desires, defence mechanisms – they all sit here. But in reality, your inner child is only a hurt part of yourself, clinging onto outdated ways of dealing with hard things and refusing to change out of fear.
Many of the ideas we’ve discussed can be applied to self-compassion, learning to ‘flip’ your thoughts (step 4!) is especially effective. When you become aware of any thoughts you have against yourself, consider what you’d say to your best friend, or your child-self, if they stood in front of you. Practising this will eventually help you to go straight to the compassionate thought, over the negative one.
Hopefully, these five mindsets help you practice compassion more – there’s nothing quite like the warmness that compassion brings to you. Remember, as you implement them, that compassion is a skill like any other – it takes practice! You will slip up, but you will get better if you stick to it and it’ll be worth it for the person you become.
Love as much as you can. Love, Ella-Rose xx