Navigating the Challenges of Life
When we take a good look at life, we have to admit it can be tough. Everyone’s life has a beginning and an end. We are all susceptible to disease and aging. And there are times when we feel as though we have been wronged and feel angry. We’re human after all. Just take a quick look at the news and outrage often seems to be the common ground. It’s during these times that it is important to remember we are all in this together. In order to do this, we need to get a handle on our anger. And one of the best ways to do so is to actively practice empathy and compassion.
The Difference Between Empathy and Compassion
Before we explore how we can turn our minds from anger to compassion, it’s important to note the subtle difference between empathy and compassion. The foundation of empathy is to be able to see a situation from another’s perspective, to walk in their shoes, so to speak. But it is not just understanding another’s perspective, it’s valuing that perspective with a soft and caring heart.
“Empathy is at the heart of what it means to be human. It’s a foundation for acting ethically, for good relationships of many kinds, for loving well, and for professional success. And it’s key to preventing bullying and many other forms of cruelty.”-Making Caring Common Project, Harvard University
Compassion embodies all that empathy entails but takes it a step further. This is when you hold a desire for everyone — even those you dislike or who have harmed you — to be happy and free from suffering. For many, this is easier said than done. It is generally not something we can immediately cultivate without practice. A good place to start is by laying a solid foundation of empathy and then building upon it until we feel true compassion for those around us.
Habits That Cultivate Empathy
As mentioned above, one of the best ways to encourage empathy is to shift our perspective so that we can understand another’s viewpoint or behavior. It is a wonderful practice to adopt! But there are several additional habits that are equally helpful, such as:
Cultivate curiosity about others. This is more than chatting up a stranger about the weather. It is about having a sincere interest in another person’s life who is outside your social circle. To help plant the seeds of empathy, make a commitment to have at least one meaningful conversation each week with a stranger.
Curb preconceptions and prejudices. It is easy to fall into the trap of labeling individuals or groups. We see it throughout history and in our present day. But when we challenge these assumptions in our own lives, it sets the stage for empathy and understanding. A good way to do this is to actively search for what we share in common with another, instead of what divides us.
Practice radical listening and vulnerability. When we listen deeply to another, it involves more than just hearing their words. We also pick up on their emotional state and needs. Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), explains this idea beautifully: “What is essential is our ability to be present to what’s really going on within—to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment.” However, there is a crucial second step: opening up. When we are vulnerable and honest about our inner experience, it helps to cultivate mutual understanding for both sides. Sharing our life story, complete with its challenges and heartache, is a powerful practice of vulnerability and openness.”
Encouraging Compassion with Loving-Kindness Meditation
With this practice, we can build upon the foundation of empathy and extend our loving thoughts to those around us, even those who we dislike or find challenging. It is a wonderful way to cultivate compassion and kindness towards others. It also cools the heat of our anger. A detailed outline of the practice can be found at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.
The Connection Between Stress, Anxiety, and Anger
When we feel anxious or stressed, it’s much easier to become reactive and angry. It also makes it more difficult to have empathy and compassion for those around us. Herbal remedies can help. My Anxiety & Stress Tincture is a potent blend of soothing herbs and adaptogens, including: Lemon Balm, Reishi Mushroom, Lion’s Mane Mushroom, and Ashwagandha.