“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama
I have always tried my best to be as kind as I could to everyone. And, to control my thoughts in the same way. When someone is suffering, I try and feel their pain. When someone looks lost or is lonely, I try and provide some direction and comfort. Small gestures. Big gestures. I just always try to be kind, in words, gestures and thoughts. I do my best to never think or act in a way that isn’t, simply kind. That’s really my guiding light in life.
I practice kindness because, perhaps, I see so much unkindness in the world. Because I have had alot of unkindness directed at me. And, because it reflects my Buddhist practice of trying to reverse whatever negative karma might have accumulated in my life, or previous ones.
I do it also because I want to teach my kids to always be kind as well. I am often alarmed at how much their generation isn’t kind to one another and how much hate there is in young people’s world today. But it’s actually everywhere. On social media. On television and movies. And, of course, in politics. Kids aren’t born this way — they learn it from their parents, our politicians and our social discourse.
So I deepened my own commitment to compassion as a result and really, really go out of my way to be as kind and compassionate to everyone I encounter.
In a wonderful book I just read by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, there was a great deal of emphasis on how to deal with one’s struggles and hardships. Amazing insights. Wonderful, wonderful teachers. One particular passage from the Dalai Lama really struck a cord when he was asked how he deals with his own bouts of pain, sadness, anger and stresses. His response was incredibly simple, but powerful…”Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.”
So what the Dalai Lama is saying is that we suffer because of our self-centerteredness and because of our ego. We suffer because we obsess about our own suffering.
I recently read an amazing article in the Harvard Business Review on how being compassionate to others helps alleviate stress in people and in situations. Check this particular passage out…”One of our studies (Kandi’s researchon executive-level health care leaders) confirms this. When asked how they deal with chronic and acute work stress, 91% of the study’s executives described how expressing empathy allows them to stop focusing on themselves and connect with others on a much deeper level. Other researchers agree (see here, here, and here for examples). Expressing empathy produces physiological effects that calm us in the moment and strengthen our long-term sustainability. It evokes responses in our body that arouse the (good) parasympathetic nervous system, and it reverses the effects of the stress response brought on by the (bad) sympathetic nervous system. So not only do others benefit from our empathy, but we benefit, too.”
Returning to the Dalai Lama, he tells the story of how he was giving a speech in front of 100,000 people one day and he felt intense pain, unlike any he had ever felt before. He was rushed to the hospital and it turned out to be an issue with his gallbladder. On the way to the hospital, in agonizing pain, he recounts this experience…”We had to drive to the hospital in Pana, the capital city of Huhar, which was two hours away. Bihoar is one of the poorest states in India. I could see out the window that children had no shoes, and I knew that they were not getting a proper education. Then as we approached Pana, under a hut I saw an old man lying on the ground. His hair was disheveled, his clothes were dirty and he looked sick. He had no one to take care of him. Really, he looked as if he were dying. All the way to the hospital, I was thinking of this man and felt his suffering, and I completely forgot about my own pain. By simply shifting my focus to another person, which is what compassion does, my own pain was much less intense. This is how compassion works even at the physical level.”
And then it hit me. I realized at that moment that my commitment to compassion was really not just about me trying to be a good person and role model for my kids, it was actually healing me of my own suffering, anxieties and stresses. Both mentally and physically.
Perhaps if more people practiced compassion toward others, we would have less anger, hatred, bullying and suffering in the world. And, as I clearly see now, the compassionate ones would be so much healthier as a result, too.
So next time you’re feeling down, sad, stressed or suffering from pain, try turning your attention to someone else and offering up compassion to that person. I have no doubt you will ease their pain, and most likely yours, too.