As the Buddha stated in fifth century B.C., “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” Though for many people the Buddha may not be the first person to come to mind when dealing with unpleasant feelings, his words of wisdom remain timeless. To some people, the Buddha’s adages seem uncanny in their everlasting dogma. How can a statement remain so relevant nearly 2,600 years after its conception? His wisdom is nothing more (and nothing less) than profound realizations resulting from a life of studying human nature through the lens of compassion.
Through the virtue of being aware of others’ suffering, one is quickly released from an often overwhelming semblance of egocentrism. Instead of perpetuating the trap of self pity and loathing, the importance of compassion is quickly illuminated. Throughout the course of my typical middle-class suburban childhood I found myself cultivating an unhealthy penchant for projecting my social and emotional dissatisfaction onto my peers. As one can imagine, all that results from antisocial behavior is a lack of socialization, which typically only strengthens the behavior. Due to an undeveloped sense of self awareness, countless teens find themselves in the same predicament, however few people have the resources and conviction to make a lasting change. Fret not, I’m not here to say some trite expression like “We all have the potential to change” or “We’re all good people at heart,” instead I suggest that if one is truely dissatisfied with their current deportment to make consistent, small changes every day. Self improvement always starts with self awareness of the root of the challenge, which can be facilitated through the act of performing a mindfulness practice.
Though an image of a monk meditating in complete silence may be immediately evoked when hearing the word “mindfulness,” the reality is that the practice requires no forethought, mindstate, or particular setting. All one needs is the desire to improve whatever internal consternation they may be facing. Start by taking a moment to evaluate both physiological and mental processes, determining what is either pleasant or unpleasant. Contrary to what an unrealistic optimist may believe, the act of focusing on the unpleasant allows pleasant feelings to flourish. Simply stay focused on the feeling, identify why it’s unpleasant, where you associate the feeling in the body, and watch it subside! At this point, some level self awareness has been achieved and one is ready to be receptive to the suffering of others. We’re all humans experiencing very human emotions and reactions. Though one will likely be unable to relate to an exact experience, the feelings which one associates with the experience are accessible and largely universal. Make an active effort to understand the discomfort which the individual may be experiencing then, as corny as sounds, think pleasant thoughts toward the individual. As an outsider, one has the vantage of not being directly involved with the source of suffering and is thus able to understand the situation from a far more balanced, though less informed, perspective.
Living during an age often characterized by greed and lack of connection, the act of cultivating a field of compassion is invaluable in creating not only a healthy society, but also a healthy mindstate. For those who find the notion of helping others through compassionate thinking to be too abstract, all I can hope is that they find themselves in a state of liberation while in a compassionate environment, taking a moment to understand how those around them have impacted their mindstate.