I’ve recently been forced into a closet with compassion and a beautiful new relationship has sprung forth.
I’ve always thought of myself as a compassionate person but it’s easy to feel compassion for the less fortunate. It’s much harder to feel compassion for those you disagree with, who hurt you or those you may even consider an enemy.
I read the Thich Nhat Hahn’s book Anger this summer. In it, he suggests replacing anger with compassion. To anyone new to Hahn’s concepts, replacing anger with compassion is like replacing fear with courage. Total opposites.
It’s taken several months and baby steps, but I have slowly but surely adopted the practice of stepping back when I feel angry or threatened, asking myself how I can be compassionate and then acting accordingly.
It’s not easy.
I was in the grocery store with a really angry family member recently. This person was throwing items around, hitting the self-check screen with all his might and generally throwing a tantrum. I felt embarrassed and annoyed but took a moment to step back and muster compassion. I said, “seems like this thing isn’t going fast enough for you, can I help?” I kept talking and trying to remain positive or neutral, even laughing when I felt like rolling my eyes. I felt better and so did my relative. I engaged in a conversation that was not pleasant at first. I realized I wasn’t the source of my relative’s ire and kept talking. Eventually it came out that this person wasn’t irritated with the store, the people in the parking lot or the self-check machine — all of which had received a good deal of aggression in the process. No – the real reason was a deep sense of under appreciation by the people for whom we were shopping and a sense of obligation and hopelessness that there would never be any relief from this duty.
Once that came out, my relative calmed quite a bit. I said, “Well, I appreciate what you’re doing even if they don’t. It has to be done and here you are doing it.”
This has kept happening. Since then, I’ve been seeking opportunities to use compassion instead of anger. It’s been easy – any time politics comes up in conversation I have a chance to choose compassionate dialog instead of heated debate.
Everyone needs compassion. Even the people we disagree with most – hell, they often need it the most! I’ve never been perfect and I appreciate others’ acknowledgment of that and their acceptance. Their compassion has helped me keep going.
I’ve been finding that the more compassion I give, the more I get back. I’m really grateful to Henry Vines for lending me that book and for the opportunity I’ve had to put a lot of it into practice.