You know how it is. Most people in your life inspire compassion.
It comes easily to see the good in others. But there’s always that one person who doesn’t, you know, deserve it. It’s easy to talk about compassion for the people in Oslo, or Haiti, or the homeless. It’s easy to have compassion for 90% of the people in our lives.
But there’s always at least that one––you know the one who just popped into your head––that you just don’t think you can find a way to love.
I had one of those. He probably won’t be the last one. He was one of those people that just thinking about him could make me feel itchy and annoyed like when you have a hair in your mouth and you just. can’t. get. it. out! He would shoot at animals in the woods from his deck. He would let his dogs sh*t all over my yard. He would leave his kid (and the dogs) at my house without asking. Once, I offered him some zucchini from my garden and he told me he “didn’t eat vegetables.”
He was obsessed with having a perfect, green lawn and had lots of chemical laden lawn treatments (not far enough from my garden for my taste.) He once walked into my house––without asking––and just started talking, ignoring the fact that I was on the phone and that I was holding my finger up to say “One minute, you obnoxious creature can’t you see I am doing something!”
Even now, all of these things seem kind of minor. It was his general demeanor, lack of consideration, and boorishness that drove me crazy and made me write him off as someone I just plain couldn’t like.
Until I could.
In An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life, The Dalai Lama talks about cultivating compassion and loving-kindness through meditation:
“We must use a real individual as the focus of our meditation, and then enhance our compassion and loving-kindness toward that person so that we can really experience compassion and loving-kindness toward others. We work on one person at a time. Otherwise we might end up meditating on compassion in a very general sense, with no specific focus or power to our meditation. Then, when we actually relate this kind of meditation to specific individuals we are not fond of, we might even think, ‘Oh, he is an exception.'”
Earlier this year, I decided to devote my morning meditation to holding a compassionate intent for this guy (I’ll call him Homer). For a month, I spent half an hour every morning, focusing my meditation on compassion and loving-kindness for this man. And although it started out with a completely selfish motivation (I was moving and wanted to improve my icky neighbor karma and start fresh in the new place…) it changed the way I saw him––completely.
I started to see him as a loving father to his daughter. I started to see him as a loving caretaker of his home and his pets. I started noticing his generosity, his willingness to help at the drop of a hat. I started to see him as…well…as a person. I stopped feeling annoyance and resentment rise up inside me when I thought of him. None of us are just one thing. We all contain multitudes. When we make our “neighbors” out to be these one-dimensional characters, we miss out.
Who is your Homer? Is it a specific person? Is it a group of people?
Try taking even two minutes a day to focus your compassion and loving-kindness on that person or group of people. Even if he or she never changes, the changes in you will be worth it.
Kate Bartolotta is a holistic stress management coach, massage therapy student, and mother of two. She credits her daily meditation practice as the oil that keeps all of the above running smoothly. Kate has practiced yoga on and off over since college. She initially started to help improve her physical health, but found yoga’s effects on her mental and spiritual health more profound than she ever imagined. She left teaching in order to start her own personal coaching business.
Last year she chose to go back to school for massage therapy in lieu of law school because she believes that massage has a greater potential to change the world. She lives in eastern Connecticut, but loves to wander around the globe as much as possible. She very rarely talks about herself in the third person, but is a chronic over user of the exclamation point! Connect with Kate on Facebook and Twitter.
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