At the start of the year I greedily choose 3 words for the year, rather than the traditional one. This partly because I couldn’t decide, but also because these three words – compassion, contentment and creativity – are linked.
As we are halfway through the year I though I would take some time to reflect back on them.
Compassion for me this is an integral part of contentment now, it is a lot easier to be content with my life when I am being gentle towards myself and others.
It is not an easy thing to do, especially as I have always been such a stressful person, but I find that acting compassionatley makes life less stressful. That can only be a good thing. I think that compassion and contentment are linked with the Buddhist ideal of metta-bhavana, which means loving-kindness.
In the Buddhist tradition that I have worked with for over seven years there is a meditation practice called Metta Bhavana. I have always found it is the hardest form of meditation to do, but of course this means (as it often does) that it is the one that is most benefial. It is a practice where you think ‘may you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering, may you make progress’ in 5 stages –
1 – about yourself,
2 – a good friend who is the same sex as you and roughly the same age,
3 – a ‘netural’ person who you often see but don’t really know (eg the postman, person who runs the corner shop)
4 – someone you struggle with – family member, colleague, neighbour, someone in your circle of friends etc. I have known some people to do this with a really big person in mind – eg Osma Bin Laden (a few years ago now) – it is best to start with someone you are in regular contact with, rather than a global figure.
5 – is where you hold all of these people on the same level in your mind and wish those same sentiments for all of them at the same time.
The final part you open those thoughts and goodwill up to your household, your street, your neighbourhood, county, country, world, universe.
It is so powerful, I had an epiphany the first time I was on retreat, which was when I was still working in marketing in busienss and HATING it, my journal from the time reflects that, I clearly remember writing as I sat on the train that this wasn’t the right career for me, that it was tearing me in two.
The retreat was the first time I had done meditation (that is so like the old me, to have never done meditation and then go straight on a ten day retreat, over Christmas and New Year!) and I struggled a great deal. Every day. Then on about the fifth day I felt a surge of lightness and happpiness flood out within me. The reason? I was putting myself on the same plane as my best friend. I was wishing both her and me to be well, happy, free from suffering and to make progress. Both of us.
At the time I was having an incredibly low point of depression and generally struggling with life. I loved my best friend and so to wish myself the same good will as I did for her was astonishing for me. At the time I think it was fair to say that I was full of self-hatred. To wish myself well like this was radical in the extreme.
Depression has been a big part of my life since my teens and I find it somewhat ironic that now I have a chronic illness to contend with I am probably the happiest I have ever been. I am sure this is because of focusing my life on the 3Cs.
On a day to day basis compassion for myself means not beating myself up about my illness, accepting and surrendering to it, allowing for good days and bad days without judgement, but also planning and putting things in place to pace myself better. Using a small paper diary so I can only physically fit so many things in on the week (whereas an electronic calendar keeps on stretching), no more than one day in London a week. Not having meetings on days after I have had a busy day. Allowing buffers for things which needs to be done at a certainly time, both before and after. Only working four days a week, holding Sundays as Sundays.
The practice of compassion is much wider than me of course, it is giving people the benefit of the doubt – yes she might have ignored me, but maybe she is having a really bad day. Yes, that person cut me up dangerously, but they might be dashing to see their child in hospital. And then letting go – not getting angry, not holding on to the anger and letting it fester away in me.
It is also inextricably linked to kindness in my mind. The Dalai Lama talks about his religion as being kindness. I honestly think this and love is, or should, be at the heart of every religion. I try to make eye contact with the shop assistant and smile at her (in the past I would have been polite but certainly not made eye contact!), remembering that she has a family and is loved by someone. Opening the doors and smiling, standing with Buster in the road between cars so that people in their work suits or with buggies can get past without getting Buster hairs on them. Finding something pleasant to say. Of course a lot of this is simple manners, but I do think it goes a little bit deeper than that, it is trying to think the best of everyone, trying to see God in everyone, trying to allow that everyone has their own rubbish that they are carrying every single day.
There is something about being kind to people, that lightens the heart, softens the shell and allows that kindness to take root within you.
Now don’t get me wrong, I haven’t suddenly turned into a saint, but I don’t think I am quite as full of anger as I was, I don’t think I get into a temper as much as I did. I often catch myself in a bad mood and try to shift it somehow, try to find a way to change it. But I do find that trying to integrate compassion into my life is extremely helpful.