a lesson in compassion
A few weeks ago I learnt an important lesson whilst working at the Sustainable Living festival here in Melbourne.
I was working for the husband of a woman I met at a writers’ group. Yes, I had decided to consider myself a writer and meet other like-minded souls to get some inspiration. I should have blogged about it, as the majority of the evening was spent wishing I hadn’t asked “So what do you write about?” as people went into the most indescribable detail that was of no interest to me at all and simply made me wish I hadn’t been so polite…
Anyway, someone who was interesting, offered me a couple of days work serving ice cream at her husband’s stall, which I jumped at as it seemed like an opportunity to do something different.
If you didn’t already know, the Aussies are pretty eco-mad. There is a lot of emphasis here on recycling and saving energy and the whole festival was packed with ideas and energy gurus and a few wacky characters.
During a round of handing out ice cream samples (I could add a note here about the number of fat f**Ks who didn’t understand the concept of sampling the ice cream and tried to walk away with my pot… but I won’t, as this is a lesson in compassion…) I met a woman who I got chatting to about ice cream naturally, and once my duty was done I turned to walk away. “Wait!” She said “I’d like to give you something”. Heavens, I thought, I can’t accept anything for an ice cream sample. No, silly me, she wanted to share why she was at the festival.
“What do you know about Compassion?” She asked me. I paused for a moment, wondering where this conversation might go. “I know that there isn’t enough in the world”, I said, feeling quite wise and warming to this woman. She then asked me if I felt I had enough compassion in my life. I said I tried to be compassionate, but it’s not always easy. She seemed to sense my thoughts and then asked me if there was someone who had upset me recently that probably needed some compassion. This triggered a thought I hadn’t expected and I immediately said yes. She then asked if I would be willing to spend a few minutes with her to do an exercise in compassion that might make me feel better about this person. Never one to say no to a free lesson in life I obliged.
She read 5 basic steps to me, which I would like to share, as a lesson for us all. I hope I don’t get done for plagiarism…
Step 1: With attention on the person, repeat to yourself: “Just like me, this person is seeking some happiness in his/her life”
Step 2: With attention on the person, repeat to yourself: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life”
Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair”
Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fulfil his/her needs”
Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life”
She hesitated before asking me if I felt any better about that person. I lied of course (must stop doing that) and she saw straight through it, so asked if I would mind running the exercise again as she felt I was still holding onto something.
We did it again and I kid you not, I felt an amazing sense of relief. I did feel more compassion towards this person and I did feel that this total stranger had taught me to feel less anger towards that person.
She handed me a card, with the 5 instructions on it and told me to run this exercise whenever I felt that someone deserved a little more compassion.
I have to say, as a language teacher, Compassion is something we all need to practise and in life you are going to meet people who will piss you off, upset you, hurt you or simply just puzzle you. I am not saying that all negative feelings can be eradicated by a simple 2 minute compassion visualisation, but I do feel it is something we could all learn to use more often.
Try it today and a see how it feels!