Day 27 of 30: Compassion Under Challenging Circumstances
Yesterday, you manifested warm feelings and well wishes directed towards a loved one. That’s an excellent practice. It’s a good starting point for heart-opening exercises because probably it was pretty easy to feel loving feelings toward someone you care about.
So what gets in the way of bringing understanding & compassion to all relationships? And what do you do to practice being your ‘best self’ in those situations too?
Some of the primary obstacles to being open-hearted are:
- Lack of Resources. How resourced are you? If you are tired, distracted, or upset, then it is more difficult to be compassionate.
Why? Because managing your emotions and bringing attention to the perspective of another takes effort. If you don’t have the resources available to you, then it may not be possible.
So what to do under those circumstances? The first step is to notice when you are tired, distracted, or upset. There are no ‘rules’ that a particular interaction needs to happen right now. If appropriate, one potential next step is to let the other person know. If that’s not appropriate, then another option is to exit the situation to get the rest or other resources you need.
- Judgment. If you have a history with the other person, there may be judgment and resentment getting in the way.
Why? Judgment and resentment can be dehumanizing. The other person is no longer a ‘full-fledged human’ but is instead ‘the enemy’ who has hurt me before.
So what to do under those circumstances? A first step is self-compassion. Self-compassion can start with your acknowledgement that the other person has done things in the past that you experienced as upsetting or painful. That upset did not feel good. It was not what you wanted. Next, think about one of these situations in particular. What did you want? What was most important to you? Once you have identified what was important to you, say those things silently to yourself. It was reasonable to want those things. By bringing compassion to yourself first, you may be able to soften to the other person’s humanity. If so, then a next step is to make a guess as to what motivated the other person’s behavior in that specific situation. What were they needing? What was most important to them? Sometimes it may be necessary at this point not to think about the hurt it stimulated in you because any attention placed on the hurt may be a distraction to resting into exploring what it was like for the other person. Be as curious as possible. Are you able to connect to the other person’s humanity? Regardless of your perceptions of the impact to you, is it possible for you to relate to what you think they may have wanted at that time?
- Fear. Caring about another person can come with vulnerability. Opening your heart to another has the potential to be upsetting disappointing, and painful.
Why? You know from past experience that caring for another person opens you up for both pleasant emotions associated with connection, support & understanding, and it also can lead to the unpleasant emotions when those same needs are not met. You may have closed your heart out of the good intention to protect yourself. Will this person do something that hurts me? Are they trustworthy? Can I rely on them?
So what to do under those circumstances? You’ve already been doing some of the work over the last several days! By practicing self-compassion, you can count on the warm loving presence you can offer to yourself. That consistency is a major comfort that fosters resilience. Also, you have been practicing sitting with difficult emotions. Most likely what you found out is that the discomfort is not too uncomfortable if you don’t fuel the feelings, and that you can choose how to respond as long as you pause, comfort yourself, and resist your immediate reaction. Confidence and courage comes not from fearlessness, but from a healthy acceptance of all potential outcomes and your knowledge that you have the skills to manage them. That being said, you have the wisdom to discern when a relationship does not serve you and establishing boundaries is a reasonable approach to situations that are more painful than you wish to allow into your life.
Today’s practice is a traditional lovingkindness exercise in which you will wish someone well. Throughout this practice, what is most important is noticing how your heart feels during it. Does it feel like it is opening up? Cracking open slightly? Warm? Receptive? Or does it feel like it is behind a wall? Closed off? If this practice is new to you, please be patient and it may take multiple repetitions to feel a change happening.
A little prep before today’s practice: Select someone in your life with whom you have a challenging relationship. On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is a low amount of challenge and 10 where it is a very challenging relationship, select one on the low to moderate side.
- Set your timer and practice calm focus meditation until you notice your concentration deepens.
- When you notice a shift into a more calm focused state, please direct your awareness to picturing the person you chose in your preparation. Picture them in your mind with as much detail as possible. Notice any feelings that arise. Where do you feel them in your body? What do they feel like? What are the qualities of these feelings? Temperature? Movement? Weight? Something else?
- At this point, if you notice feelings of upset arise and/or judgmental thoughts about the other, then rest your awareness on those feelings & thoughts. Upset is arising now. Acknowledge that your relationship with this person can be a challenging one. It is not easy. There are rough patches. Sometimes your needs are not met. Silently to yourself, say some of the needs you wish were getting met more often in this relationship. Maybe you wish for their presence & attention. Maybe it’s understanding. Maybe it’s support. Maybe it’s acceptance. Maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is. Acknowledge that it is important to you. It matters to you. It is reasonable. As you rest in this acknowledgement of your needs, notice if you soften a bit. If so and if you wish to continue, proceed on. If not, at anytime in today’s practice you always have the option either to stop or to return to calm focus meditation.
- As you continue to picture them in your mind, silently wish them well. Some phrases I use are: “May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you feel loved and cared for.” Feel free to modify these phrases to make them your own. The words are not as important as your intention of wanting good things for them – ease, safety, comfort, connection, et cetera. Continue to repeat these phrases again and again directed toward them for several minutes, focusing some of your attention on your feelings behind these well wishes.
- When the timer goes off, return to resting your awareness on the felt sensations of your belly while breathing for a few breaths to conclude your practice today.
After today’s practice, the invitation to you is to reflect on what you noticed. Was it easy or challenging? Did it feel natural or forced? Was it easy to select someone with whom you have a moderately challenging relationship? Do you think that this practice may have benefits over time?
If you’d like, please offer what you learned in today’s lovingkindness practice by sharing in the comments below. Please raise awareness of this content by sharing it using the social media icons adjacent to it. Please reach out to me if I can support you.
See you tomorrow!
3 Tips For Meditating When Your Mind is Busy
3 Tips For Meditating When Your Mind Is Busy Something that becomes clear with a regular daily meditation practice is that every day is different. People who have been meditating for decades still encounter days when they sit down to meditate and the challenge is...
Periodically it will be helpful to turn to a reminder of why are you choosing to invest in meditation. Here is a partial list of benefits…