Momentary burst of happiness can arise from external experiences like a delicious meal, the purchase of a brand new car, or the fervent interest of a charming beau.
But think about it for a moment. How long does this type of happiness last?
What happens when your stomach starts to flip from the rich food you ingested, you discover a dent in that shiny vehicle, and your new flame suddenly stops calling you?
You probably get all choked up with sadness, anger, or fear. Then happiness ends up a dim memory at best.
Material objects, success, and people can indeed bring you happiness at times, but it’s not an enduring joy. Our wholes lives can be wrapped up in this endless pursuit of external happiness, but it’s just like being on an unfulfilling hamster wheel.
The Trouble with Too Much Focus on the Self
Let’s look a little deeper. Why do these uncomfortable feelings set in when externally based happiness departs? They stem from self-cherishing, self-grasping, and the belief in a permanent self, which together form the source of all our suffering. If you can get rid of this clinging to self, you can get rid of suffering at the same time. You’ll free yourself from negative emotions and negative actions, which naturally will bring immeasurable joy.
Let’s be clear, that doesn’t mean you should neglect yourself. A reasonable degree of self-care makes your all the more able to feel and act compassionately toward others. The aim is to shift the balance from self-absorption to more concern and care for others.
As the Dalai Lama says, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”
Cultivate a Compassionate Heart
Genuine compassion – not pity – is one of the best ways to erode away this self-cherishing. Compassion is the wish that all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering – the self-cherishing, self-grasping, and negative actions mentioned above.
No doubt you’re a good person who feel empathy and thinks of others from time to time. But if you take a step back and look at how much time your mind is absorbed in your own comfort and endeavors, you might be surprised, maybe even shocked.
Isn’t it true that we’re almost always thinking of our very own self? “I’m too hot, I’m too cold, I’m hungry, will I meet my monthly goals, what will he think of me?” If we don’t put on the brakes, this self-absorption can go on and on only leading to discontent.
So let’s cultivate its antidote instead: the compassionate heart. Almost everyone naturally feels empathy when it’s stirred. How can we grow this empathy so that it blossoms into complete, unconditional compassion?
Here are three compassion practices I would like to share with you today.
1} Get In Touch with Your Own Suffering
Often people keep busy to avoid painful feelings, facing who they really are, and owning up to less than angelic tendencies. If you suppress you emotions, however, they will come out in other ways. They might manifest as irritation, aggression, sadness, and even bodily illness.
When you have the courage to feel your own suffering, you can learn to free it too. Don’t suppress your suffering. Allow your suffering to surface, acknowledge it, and let it dissolve. I know that’s not easy so start with tiny sufferings like small displeasures or disappointments before you dive into your most painful emotions and experiences.
This doesn’t mean you should indulge in a self-pity party. The idea is to be open to whatever thoughts and emotions arise in your mind and heart, but realize they are transitory, so you don’t have to jump on a high-speed emotional train. You can learn to let risings of the mind pass by instead.
Allowing yourself to feel this bittersweet quality of being human will naturally expand your capacity to feel compassion for the suffering of others. You realize that they’re feeling the same suffering as you, which brings us to the next practice.
2} See Others As Another You
“After all, all human beings are the same – made of human flesh, bones and blood. We all want happiness and want to avoid suffering. Further, we have an equal right to be happy. In other words, it is important to realize our sameness as human beings.” – The Dalai Lama
We tend to see others as separate from ourselves and easily fall into judgments about them. Instead, you could practice seeing each person as another you. That will put a completely different spin on how you relate to them.
- Like you, they want to be happy and don’t want to suffer. True, they often go about trying to achieve happiness in the oddest of ways, mistakenly creating more suffering for themselves and others. They are confused about what will bring true happiness so greed, envy, desire, insatiability, and aggression can color their thoughts, words, and actions when that’s not what they really want.
- Like you, early childhood conditioning and unconscious negative patterning may dominate their mind. They don’t know there’s another option. They don’t see a way out. They identify with their thoughts and emotions so strongly, not realizing they are much more than this.
- Like you, their nature is divine. Behind all the emotional chaos and defeating beliefs, there’s a pure awareness always there within. When you identify with your pure consciousness instead of the transitory thoughts and emotions, you can begin to breathe, feel more space, and at last more freedom from these previously dominating trends.
So when you see another person, see the commonality you share. Don’t get stuck on outer appearances. No matter how unruly or difficult they may seem, see the divine within. Make this prayer often and your compassionate heart will fully bloom.
“May all beings be happy, free from suffering, and the cause of suffering. May they reach perfect happiness, remain in it, and live in equanimity. May they maintain love for all others without discrimination.” – Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
3} Exchanging Yourself for Others
“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” – the Dalai Lama
There’s a beautiful practice in Tibetan Buddhism called “Giving and Receiving” or “Tonglen” in Tibetan. In this practice, you use the breath as a medium for taking on the suffering of others and sending out all your happiness, good fortune, health, and any goodness you possess.
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche presents slight variations on this practice. Here is one visualization he suggests:
“…Visualize that your heart is a brilliant ball of light. As you breath out, it radiates rays of white light in all directions, carrying your happiness to all beings. As you breathe in, their suffering, negativity, and afflictions come toward you in the form of dense, black light, which is absorbed into your heart and disappears in its brilliant white light without a trace, relieving all beings of their pain and sorrow.”
Start Where You Are
When you practice compassion, always start where you are and build from there. If the idea of giving and receiving scares you, start by getting in touch with your own suffering or seeing others as another you. Don’t push yourself to feel an enormous compassion beyond your current capacity. That will only backfire and make you shrink from opening your heart.
Although the seed of empathy lies within almost all of us, you must practice compassion often to fully expand your heart. You can practice in meditation sessions until these ideas and visualizations come naturally.
At the same time, don’t forget to put compassion into action. Notice your gut reaction to others. When it’s unkind, judgmental, or aggressive, bring to mind how everyone is another you. Then reach out with love instead.
I believe compassion is necessary for our own happiness because true compassion destroys self-cherishing, self-grasping, and the belief in a permanent self. Then your true essence shines right through. At the same time, compassion is the perfect replacement for negative thoughts, words, and actions, which will only bring suffering in their stead.
About the Author of this Post:
Sandra Pawula is the heart and mind behind Always Well Within, a mindfulness guide, and a peace-loving introvert. She helps people who seek ease but want more than just stress reduction alone.
If you’re willing to think deeply and look within, she’d love to guide you toward creating a life of joy and ease – mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Sign up for her free weekly stress tips and start living with greater peace.
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With Immense Love, Light & Gratitude,