3 Steps to Unconditional Compassion
During the past 10 years as a 911 operator, I have seen no shortage of opportunities to extend compassion to a perfect stranger. A stranger who, in the midst of whatever difficulty they are experiencing at the other end of the line, is no longer interested in niceties. These callers can be demanding, condescending, rude, unintelligible, intentionally evasive with details, and manipulate the story to speed up police dispatch time.
These aren’t the folks calling with emergencies, mind you. No, these are the calls that you don’t usually associate with a 911 emergency. Like loud parties, people walking through their neighborhood who “don’t belong there,” neighbors playing their TV too loud, children playing catch on the street in front of their houses (“and they almost got close to my car!”). The best is the caller who has phoned several times to report a loud party, and on the fifth call they throw in, “Now they have a gun.” A clever ploy that assures a much quicker response. The police arrive within minutes, “Code 4, no evidence of a gun.” Party’s over, though. We’ll use that trick again next time.
Despite whether we dispatchers view these calls for police service “worthy,” or whether we relate to calling the police for seemingly inconsequential matters, the matter is of consequence to this person. Each caller is asking for help, in their own way, even if we don’t like the way they ask. And this plea (or demand, as it sometimes comes across) for help provides an opportunity to extend compassion and kindness. They truly are suffering, and they’re pissed about it.
If we judge the validity of this suffering, along with the attendant request for help, compassion cannot flow. Thoughts (judgment) have disconnected us from heart (compassion).
This happens so often as we go about our days. We offer our compassion and patience to some, but not all. To our relatives and friends, but not the gardeners. To the boss, but not our coworkers. To those who make us feel good, but not those who question us.
We place certain people in the box of “deserve it,” and the others somewhere around “eh.” But doesn’t everyone deserve our compassion? Aren’t we all human?
Compassion and kindness for all is easier said than done, ’tis true, but we can start where we are, crusty-shelled heart and all. 3 ways to get started:
1. The first step to cultivating more compassion for others is to extend kindness and compassion to yourself. It’s amazing how much negative self-talk goes on in our heads, how aggressive our thoughts can be around our personal pursuits, and how little we allow ourselves to rest in the good feelings of our accomplishments when we are met with success.
Today is a great day to praise yourself for a job well done. Celebrate a victory. And then allow yourself a celebratory break. Slow down. Take a moment to breathe. The daily grind will always be there.
2. The second step is to put yourself in their shoes. While we may not relate to the specifics of the situation, we can always understand someone else’s pain. Who hasn’t suffered the wrath of a noisy neighbor? We all have different thresholds for pain and annoyance. This much is fact. And when we show up in full acceptance of what another is going through and hold this space, we are simply there for them, connected.
3. The third step is to breathe into this compassionate connection, feel your heart expand. You may notice warmth in your chest. Heighten this sensation with each inhale. With each exhale, allow this feeling of compassion to expand. Now visualize this expansion growing further and further as your feelings of kindness and compassion also grow. See how long you can hang out in this feeling of love and equanimity.
With regular practice, we can rewire our default setting of withholding compassion except for those deemed worthy, replacing it with compassion and kindness that flows freely to all. One of my favorite quotes from Plato speaks to this:
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battele.”
In what ways do you allow compassion to flow through your daily life?