What does it mean to think compassionately?

4 ways compassion helps us to think better.

1) Compassion works to calm our minds so we can think more clearly. I don’t do my best thinking when I am angry or upset.  I find I think better when I am calm and actively choosing to consider my problem or adversary compassionately helps me to reduce my anger and calm my mind so that I can think clearly.

2) Compassion helps us frame our interpersonal problems in a way that helps us better solve them.  Most of our difficulties are interpersonal. Either someone is annoying us or making our lives more difficult, or we are waiting on someone to do something for us so we can move forward with whatever it is we need to do. People are problematic. I find that when I stop focusing on what I need and start remembering that this other person, as much as I find them annoying, are doing what they do because they have their own problems and issues they are attending to, helps me to not only be less frustrated, but it helps me to figure out whether I can help them and thus help myself, or whether I need to work around them entirely. Regardless, compassion for even the most annoying people helps me to solve my problems with them more effectively.

3) Compassion helps us to exercise self-control when we should. When I am facing a problem, often, the best thing for me to do is nothing. But that’s really hard to do when I’m upset or frustrated. I find that compassion helps me calm myself down and calm my fears and frustrations and this in turns helps me not act rashly so that I am less likely to do something stupid that would make my problem worse.

4) Compassion helps us to find the courage to act when we must. Robert Ingersoll talked about wielding compassion like a sword. Compassion is an interesting emotion.  It is both fierce and unyielding and calming at the same time.  It is my compassion that makes me furious about public policy that causes the death of children through institutionalized violence against poor communities. And yet, it is also my compassion that helps me to calm the anger my compassion evoked so that I can actually solve the problem effectively. Anger is a great motivator, but I always find when I remind myself of the compassion that caused my anger, it is easier to invoke my compassion to reap the benefits of self-control and a calmed mind that only compassion can provide.

What does it mean to think compassionately?  It means to actively choose to be compassionate when you are most agitated and upset. Is it easy to do? No. It takes practice. But the more you practice, the easier it gets and the improvements in your thinking and outlook are immediate. Your  assignment for this week is to spend some time thinking about how you think about compassion.


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