By Patrick Harrington
“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
Compassion is more than kindness. It’s more radical, more intentional, and more supportive. You can be nice to people, but without being compassionate you’ll miss certain important spiritual connections with them and even yourself.
You know how all those dating articles say, “before you date someone else you need to learn to date yourself” like it’s the most profound thing they’ve ever written? First, you need to learn to be compassionate to yourself. If you’re not giving yourself kindness, you’ll find it harder to reap the benefits of giving it to others.
You need to treat your body and mind right. Giving yourself compassion can manifest in a number of ways, but the easiest way is to start simple self-care practices. Things like exercise, positive self-talk, and other wellness practices are great starting points. If you feel like being kind to yourself is a particular struggle, researching your options for therapy could be really beneficial. Professional therapists can help guide you towards specific insights on how you can best be compassionate to yourself.
Being compassionate with your family is either the easiest or the hardest thing on this list. Both good and bad family relationships come with plenty of emotional baggage, and wading through it to be compassionate can sound pointless sometimes. However, even treating those who are hard to be compassionate to kindly can have real benefits.
The easiest way, and most beneficial way, to practice compassion with family is forgiveness. Not disregarding the ways you’ve been hurt, but accepting the person for who they are and how they hurt you is an important, compassionate way to interact with family members you might have trouble understanding. Moreover, letting go of grudges can be incredibly valuable for your own mental health.
Compassionate friendships can be a radically transformative experience. There are a number of ways to practice active compassion with your friends, and can really improve your relationships. Taking opportunities to improve compassion together can be a great first step. Mindfulness activities, like yoga, can have a lot of benefits. Consider going to a class with friends, or organizing times to meditate together.
Having more compassionate interactions with your friends can drive more meaning into your relationships. Actively avoiding judgment, accepting emotions and feelings, and being a good listener are all things that can help you have deeper, more significant interactions with your friends. Deriving more meaning from your friendships can have a profound effect on both your and their mental health.
The word “sonder” was coined in the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. It refers to the concept that each and every random passerby, from the person in the Starbucks drive-through to the person playing an unseen extra in a blockbuster movie, has a deep and significant personal life that’s as real and complex as your own. Implicit in this, is the concept that each and every one of them deserves to be treated with compassion as a real, actualized person.
It’s not always easy to handle this kind of feeling. However, the benefits of recognizing the community of real people you’re a part of can lead to a much healthier relationship with those around you. Every community obviously has its flaws, so recognizing your opportunity (and really, your responsibility) to be the change you want to see can lead you to develop new and meaningful relationships in your community.
You have a responsibility to those around you. Yourself, your family, friends, and community, are all connected. Compassion is one of the most important tools you have to strengthen those connections and deepen your own relationships with them. Focus your energy on cultivating these compassionate relationships, and feel how it improves your life and the lives of those around you.