Mother Theresa once said, â€œIf you judge people, you have no time to love them.â€ Isn’t that the truth? When we get caught up in frustration, disappointment and anger with others for the way they treat us, we have very little energy left to love.
This week I’d like to focus on seeing others through compassionate eyes rather than critical eyes. It is a tall task, but it is do-able. Perhaps the place to start is with family and friends. They are our learning partners, the ones who touch us in our tender spots, the places where we are still holding fear and self-doubtthe places we need to heal.
Conflicts we harbor yet tend to deny, lurk near the surface of our awareness. They are in the air. Everyone feels the uncomfortable, constricting clouds, but nobody wants to face them. We pretend to be cordial, yet possible flair ups make our relationships uneasy. These issues follow us through our lives. They show up in one-on-one interactions, at meals with family or among friends in larger social gatherings.
You know what I mean. Do you wish you could avoid certain people? Are you tired of remarks aimed at making you feel guilty about past choices? Do you dread engaging in conversation with those close to you, fearing their intolerance of your views or lifestyle?
Notice the energy you spend worrying about these interactions. What if this energy were harnessed instead, for personal growth? While we cannot control the thoughts, words or actions of others, we can learn to shift our own thoughts, words and actions. If we are willing to do that, we can participate in relationships with greater peace. And, we can ultimately free ourselves to enjoy others and life itself more fully.
Perhaps you are thinking right now, â€œPatricia, this sounds too idealistic. You don’t know the people in my life.â€ I understand your skepticism. However, before you dismiss this possibility completely, try one or more of these simple suggestions. (If you find yourself unwilling to consider them, could it be that you are causing more conflict in these situations than you would like to admit? No judgment. Just notice. Don’t add another layer of guilt to your self-view.)
Next time you feel inner misery about an upcoming interaction, either one-on-one or with a group, try this exercise. Take a few moments to sit down and open your heart. Then, on a sheet of paper, make a list of the people you will be encountering. If the group will be large, just list those you dread seeing. Next to each name, write down any and every positive quality or memory you can think of. Just for a moment release your judgments of the individuals; open to seeing them with new eyes.
By now you will probably be feeling resistance. Know that it is natural to resist this new way of thinking. Keep going anyway. Simply observe the inner protest. Trust that your willingness to move forward will break up the fearful, negative energy and open the way for change. If you feel stuck trying to find positives, say a brief prayer. For instance, â€œPlease open my eyes. Help me see this person from a new vantage point. Enable me to move beyond my grievances to acknowledge any spark of light within this person.â€
The following questions may also assist you. Do their mannerisms annoy you? If so, can you see that they may have developed the habits unconsciously from childhood? Is this person full of good humor and laughter? Is she talented? Does he intend to be helpful even if he rarely manages to come across that way? Give credit for all attempts made. Could it be that attitudes or actions of judgment aimed at you actually spring from a deep concern the person has for you? Have you noticed these people offering kindness to someone in the past, maybe even to you? Is it possible they are doing the best they can, given their current circumstances and past experiences?
The whole point of this exercise is to increase your understanding and place your focus on the goodthe love you can perceive, no matter how small it appears to you. When you focus on the light, it grows! When you focus on the light, your perceptions shift. Old ideas you felt you could never release, begin to transform. When you focus on the light, you change.
We all say we want to live in a world of peace. Where will that peace begin? It must start in our own small circles of family and friends. It must start in us. We may not be able to change the people who annoy, ignore or offend us. However, we can change the way we look at them. We can own our judgments, open to more accepting viewpoints, and make way for harmony.
One of my favorite authors, Byron Katie, points out, â€œPlacing the blame or judgment on someone else leaves you powerless to change your experience. Taking responsibility for your beliefs and judgments gives you the power to change them.â€ Your experience will follow. Become willing to look at your thoughts honestly. As your perceptions shift from judgment to open-mindedness, you become a catalyst. Gradually you find the dynamics of your relationships moving toward peace.
Next time you face a challenging interaction, go prepared. Do the exercise and set an intention for healing. Then slip your list of positive qualities into your pocket or purse. If you find yourself moving into old patterns of judgment, excuse yourself, find a private spot and re-read your list. Breathe and allow openness to fill you again.
Ask the Divine to assist you in approaching these interactions. Ask for miraculous healing to occur even in relationships that have been plagued by animosity for years. Release and renewal are possible if only we are willing to believe them to be. When we open to peace, miracles occur.
Consider the words of The Dalai Lama: â€œCompassion is the radicalism of our times. . . If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.â€ Let’s start in our minds. Let us use our imagination to envision what life would be like if we received from others the understanding and kindness we so long for. Then let us plant the seeds of our vision by offering compassion to others now.
This week’s assignment is urgent. By day’s end, I encourage you to make your list and do this exercise. Include those who cause you mild irritation. Also, be sure not to miss the ones for whom you feel bitterness or hatred. Unlock your mind and heart and you will gain freedom to walk the world and create the life you have always yearned for.