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4 Ways to Practice Compassion

When you feel like an a**hole.

Compassion. I keep coming across this word, this theme. And so, I felt the need to explore it for myself and others.

I’ve come to realize that my childhood, teens and 20’s were filled with what I recognize now as low levels of stress and responsibility. Fast forward to my late 30’s, now with adult responsibilities and two small children. The tools I had to cope in my younger years just don’t fit the bill these days. I can’t up and make drastic changes as easily as I once could. I have roots and a family depending on me to show up every day no matter what. The unstructured nature of parenting and increased levels of responsibility has my anxiety at levels I’ve never experienced. I thought I was emotionally stable, patient, compassionate…and then I had children. And bam…the depths of my own ‘bad’ behaviors have bubbled to the surface. I had no idea they were in there.

So, compassion. I mean it feels easier to be angry and irritable. Almost endearing. But it never ends up feeling good. And that’s what we all want right? To feel good. To feel connected, kind, and caring. And of course, because we’re all connected, being hurtful only hurts ourselves.

So how do we cultivate a compassionate life? I’ve gathered tools from a few sources to help us show up with grace and kindness:

1.) Practice self-compassion. If we don’t practice self-compassion, we won’t have the capacity to act compassionately to others. Our own happiness relies on us to first be kind to ourselves to spread that kindness to others. The Dalai Lama teaches, “If you want others to be happy practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” A couple methods to exercise this are the use of mantras that focus on your wellbeing or a ‘Loving Kindness’ meditation – one of my preferred forms of meditation.

2.) Seek to see perspectives outside of your own. Yung Peublo, author of Lighter, believes that being able to see from others’ vantage points is a sign of “mental strength and intelligence”. Our relationships have the chance to thrive when we are open to hearing other sides of the equation. Compassion lives in our shared experiences.

3.) Treat children with warmth and support in their challenging moments. This can seem inconsequential, but studies are proving that children who are treated by their caregivers with empathy and support in their challenging moments turn into teens and adults who offer empathy and support to their peers and their own children. Am I saying that we need to be perfect in every interaction with our child? No, mistakes happen, and they must be made to help teach lessons that we are ALL learning and growing. No one is perfect, but the repair and empathy that comes with or after the situation is on us adults. A new study that was recently published in Child Development comes to the conclusions that how compassionately we treat our children has a profound ripple effect, generations down the line (Melinda Wenner Moyer, The Ripple Effects of Good Parenting, Substack, May 22, 2024).

4.) Practice Mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness is no easy feat, and like anything takes time and concerted effort to acquire the habit. Author of The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh provides a detailed application on how to maintain mindfulness. But for brevity’s sake, and a simple way to begin, you can start now by doing this one thing: bring a half smile to your face and with your total attention on this article, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Keep that momentum at least until the end of this piece and try to practice it with anything you chose to do in your day whether it be dishes, laundry, reading, etc.

Notice your compassion beginning to stir.

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