Take a deep breath and close your eyes. Think of someone who you love with all your heart. Think of our child sleeping, gaze at them as their soft breath moves their tiny body, footie pajamas with flowers holding bulky diapered bums. Think of your grandparent, their warm eyes twinkling at you in amazement at pure love. Think of your best friend, the love of your life, your dog. Think of whoever comes to mind that is easiest to love. With your eyes closed and this loved one in mind, notice how your face feels. Does your mouth soften into a gentle smile? Do you eyes turn up at the edges, a warmth slipping behind them, a feeling of gentle heaviness making them seem to melt back into the sockets just a tiny bit. Does your forehead melt, your ears seem to lift up towards the sky, your hand come automatically to your chest or your own cheek? Does your heartbeat quicken, your chest swell, your cheeks plump?
If you feel any (or all) of these things when you think of this person you are feeling compassion. We might also feel the ingredients of love, gratitude, longing, missing, hope, generosity, comfort, connection, acceptance. Look closely at this feeling and you might find understanding, trust, knowing, faith. Compassion. Feels good doesn’t it?
Activating this feeling isn’t hard. We can do it just by thinking of that person who we love with all our hearts or who loves us that way. We can light up this part of the brain, and then actually feel these things in our body just by thinking. It’s amazing. And easy. And so so delicious.
But over time, in our relationships we often stop activating this part of our brain and move instead to a defensive feeling. We interact with the people around us from a place of defensiveness. Distrust. Guarded. We assume malice and harden our hearts. Now close your eyes and think of someone you don’t like. someone who you are in conflict with. Notice how your face changes. Does the sides of your mouth turn down, your forehead burrow, your eyes squint? Your cheeks may feel like they drop down towards your chin, your shoulders might tense up and as if your they are trying to meet your cheeks. Gearing up. Your head might feel busy, hot. Your stomach might churn. Your brain looks for threats. Harm is near. Feel the difference? That person isn’t in the room. We merely thought about them, for a minute, and it’s likely your body responded automatically.
Now go back to the imagin of your sleeping child or loved one. Feel the switch?
Let’s be clear, nothing changed in the world while we did this experiment. We are no less safe or in danger in this moment. We only changed ou thoughts changed and our body reacted.
We changed our brain, activated different regions and changed our experience of this moment dramatically.
Compassion is a practice. It is a brain activating practice. Imagine what might happen if we interacted with friends, loved ones, neighbors, strangers, with soft gazing eyes rather than harsh skeptical eyes. What if we were able to listen to hard things, hear our partners complaints, engage with conflict WHILE our compassion brains were activated. What if we weren’t prepared for battle but ready for love? What if we assumed the person we were in relationship with wasn’t full of malice but full of suffering instead. How would we hear them, how would we hold them. How would we be moved toward collaboration or repair. how would we be motivated toward love and connection rather than hate and disconnection.
So try this experiment this week. Every morning, for five minutes, sit quietly and conjure your compassion eyes by thinking about your favorite loved one. Relish in the feeling and memorize it. really roll around in it. And then activate those soft gazing eyes (use thoughts of your favorite person to activate it whenever needed) whenever you are talking to ANYONE, your partner, your neighbor, your friend. The person waiting on your table, the gas station attendant. your boss. your own image in the mirror. Activate your kind eyes and see how it feels to listen to them. And then, do it again. and again. For one week. Make this your practice. And see what happens.
Let me know how it goes!