A simple compassion exercise

During this week's blog-writing time, I found myself thinking about someone close to me who has really been struggling lately, and who has been doing things that, from the outside looking in, seem stupid and self-sabotaging.

The more I focused on the situation, the more scared and helpless and angry I felt -- a downward spiral that had to stop if I was going to write anything honest or valuable.

I tried a number of things to get my bearings back. I acknowledged and listened to my feelings (including the annoyance that they were there in the first place). I thought about what I really want for this person, and wrote out a list of those things. Then I re-wrote that list as things I want for myself, too.

Each of those helped to some degree, but the thing that really clinched it was going through a compassion exercise from the Avatar course, which was printed on a small card that was on the table right next to me. You can find the full text here, but to summarize the instructions:

With attention on a specific person, repeat to yourself the following:

  1. Just like me, this person is seeking some happiness for his/her life.
  2. Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.
  3. Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.
  4. Just like me, this person is seeking to fulfill his/her needs.
  5. Just like me, this person is learning about life.

This exercise was such an important reminder to me that just because someone's actions cause pain for them (or others!), doesn't mean that their goal is to cause or experience pain. They may just not know (or have the skills to implement) better ways to get what they really want.  

When I assume that this person I care about wants to cause herself pain, it is really scary, and I can find myself resisting her actions and not trusting her decisions. But when I remember that what she wants for herself is actually the same thing I want for her, that dynamic shifts and I can become an ally. Which feels so much better to us both.