Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a powerful foundation for compassion. It allows us to see and work with our habits of mind and reactivity, to build our capacity for calm and clarity in the face of distress or conflict. Resources and programs are widely available to nourish this capability, which many have found to be transformative. Learn more.
Be Kind to Yourself: When we are distressed, angry, or traumatized, we cannot help others – and are at greater risk of causing harm. Tending to ourselves – making sure we have adequate rest, healthy food, supportive companionship, affirming/inspiring influences (books, role models, etc.), and a general sense of emotional well-being is necessary for us to be able to face and assist with the hardships of others.
Look and Listen Deeply: Strive to see clearly, without agenda or judgement. Listen closely, without interruption, argument, or advice. By seeking always first to understand, we will be in a better position to speak and act in a way that is helpful. More important still, often the greatest gift we can give to someone is to see, hear, and value them.
Practice on Your Family and Friends: Sometimes the most challenging – or neglected – relationships are those that are closest to us. Every day brings us opportunities to practice listening, kindness, patience, empathy and generosity in the countless interactions that make up our life.
Surround Yourself with Reminders and Inspiration: Our culture bombards us with messages that induce anxiety, stress, judgement, and outrage. We can counter this dynamic by creating environments for ourselves rich with images, sounds, and messages that invoke our connection with each other and the earth, remind us our intention to have an open compassionate heart, and inspire us with the examples of noble selflessness of others.
Learn to Distinguish What is Needed: Discernment is critical to compassionate action. There is no easy answer to many difficulties, and rushing in trying to “fix” things – no matter how well-intentioned – may cause more harm than good, especially if it involves pressuring people to think, feel, or act a certain way. Being willing to stay present with someone who is suffering and to observe, listen, and think carefully can allow us to act wisely and supportively, even when there is no “fix”.
Find Ways to Make a Difference: There are so many ways, large and small, that we can make a difference in the lives of others. Be alert to folks who need a friendly smile, a word of encouragement, or a helping hand. There are also many organizations that serve people who are struggling; find one that calls to you and volunteer. For ideas, see our article: You can help!