I vow to develop UNDERSTANDING in order to live peacefully with people, animals, plants, and minerals.
I vow to develop my COMPASSION in order to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals.
I recently read this quote in the book Planting seeds: Practicing mindfulness with children. The authors (Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community) go on to explain that these are the promises they teach children to make during mindfulness training. They state, “Meditation is looking deeply to understand the needs and suffering of the other person.” These promises resonated with me because self-understanding (or self-awareness) and self-compassion are often what’s needed for people to make personal changes within themselves and to lead to happy life; something I advocate with compassionate self-awareness.
With this, people naturally respond to their personal struggles with caring; and with a desire to come through them and to heal. They are at peace with themselves even as they feel frustration, confusion, sadness, or a whole host of other emotions. And, by being at peace with themselves, they are able to look more deeply into their problems and work efficiently to resolve them. Or, if there is no clear solution, they can feel the painful emotions without turning against themselves or the world. They can remain open to feeling love within themselves and from others – they truly experience life as more than their personal pain in that moment.
The benefits of compassionate self-awareness apply equally well to many different problems; such as struggles with relationships, depression, anxiety, overeating, and lack of assertiveness. Consider your personal struggles and how they relate to the following, which I have adapted from Planting Seeds:
- What would be different if you could approach yourself with understanding and compassion? How would you feel differently about yourself and your situation? And, how might this be helpful?
- To love someone (even yourself), you must understand that person. With a full understanding, you can see that person’s strengths and appreciate them. Their struggles also make sense to you so that you are less likely to judge and more likely to be accepting. What would it mean for you to be at peace within yourself?
- Try to imagine being loving toward yourself, especially in relation to your particular struggle. If that’s too hard to do, imagine how you might respond to a friend with similar struggles. You might find that you are more accepting, loving, and compassionate. What can you do to show that you love yourself (or your friend)? How can you care for, protect, and encourage yourself?
- If your struggle is with easily getting upset with people, you might start with identifying your emotions (e.g. angry, hurt) and understanding what triggered you to feel this way. Practice feeling the emotions and understanding them so that you naturally feel compassion. When the flood of emotions subsides, turn your attention to the person who upset you. Try to understand their emotions and what triggered them. With this approach, you can work toward respecting and caring about yourself and the other person. Then you will be better able to approach the person and situation without venom.
What I describe here is by no means the full answer to your particular dilemma. Instead, it is a starting point that places you on a helpful, constructive path. With self-awareness and compassion to guide you, you will nurture genuine, accepting love in your heart. It’s this love that will urge you to do what it takes to improve your situation and heal.
Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, NJ. She also writes a blog for WebMD (The Art of Relationships) and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.
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