Each day, we’re presented with challenges associated when interacting with other people.
It’s inevitable, there’s no way to get around it: when two people come together there’s always a chance for conflict to arise.
But each day you also have a choice: to let it go on affecting you in the same way and causing you stress, anxiety, anger, and resentment or to do something about it.
I know, people tell you to "let it go" all the time, but it's not exactly that easy. So what exactly are you supposed to do?
Imagine that the conflict is like someone holding on to your wrist. It's very hard to immediately pull away when someone is holding your wrist, you generally need to turn your hand around in some way that becomes uncomfortable for them so that their grip loosens. From there, you can easily pull away.
Most times when we hold on to things it's very much like this. If you can find a way to change your perspective, to alter your angle, you can see things in a new way. And seeing things in this new way allows you to more easily loosen the "grip" of the thing you're clinging to.
Emotions like anger and resentment are difficult to let go of, because we develop the desire to harm others so that we can "get back" at them. But if we can develop a new perspective, one in which we see the person and the situation more clearly, we'll be able to let go of that anger and resentment and find peace.
That’s why I created Healing Through Understanding, a simple compassion meditation. I came up with this form of compassion meditation a long time ago and it's helped me on countless occasions.
Sometimes I call this a compassion meditation exercise, and sometimes the understanding meditation exercise, because that's what compassion, as well as love (and any relationship), is all about: understanding.
At the heart of the Healing Through Understanding compassion meditation lies 2 points:
1. There's a reason behind every action (we all suffer- we all have challenges and difficulties) 2. Everyone is basically good
When it comes down to it, this exercise is really about working with these two points.
Whether it's a friend, loved one, or colleague, the Healing Through Understanding compassion meditation can transform the way you think of another person, help you cultivate compassion and loving-kindness for the person, and in doing so actually help heal the relationship itself as well as the pain you feel in connection with that person.
Let's get into the meditation...
Healing Through Understanding
Think of someone. This could be someone you hate, someone you generally dislike, or simply a friend or loved one whom you’ve only recently had an argument or conflict with.
Whoever they are, sit and meditate on this person. To do this, hold the person in your mind.
This, of course, isn’t possible in a literal sense because you don't know everything about the person (that's the key here), but you’re holding as much of the person you know- your perception of the person (this is what you've done with the person from the beginning, very important to realize this)- within your mind.
Simply be mindful of the various thoughts and feelings that arise while thinking of this person. Don’t judge anything that arises, simply observe it mindfully.
Once you have a decent picture of the person in your mind and you've given it at least a few minutes to develop while observing mindfully, do these three things:
1. See the picture.
Realize that this very picture in your head, this perception, is what you’re drawing judgment based off of. Not off of the real person, but off of your interpretation of that person.
This is so important, because most of us make the mistake of assuming that what we see is the way it is. But the reality is, most of the time we only see a fragment of what truly is and what we do see is colored by our bias and attitudes.
2. Contemplate the cause.
Now think of something which that person does or has done which you disapproved of and think of why they might have done or be doing said thing.
If the person said something hurtful to you, start throwing possibilities out there: maybe something is stressing them out and they don’t know how to deal with it, maybe they had a tragedy recently or were hurt and don’t know how to deal with the anger and sadness they’re feeling, or something else.
Whatever it is, start thinking of specific possibilities that could be making them act this way. Think of as many as you can.
3. See clearly.
Lastly, take a step back and review these many possibilities which you’ve brainstormed.
Realize that the reason for their hurtful behavior is two things: 1) not originating from or because of you, and 2) is because they suffer in some way
In other words, from something which they’re experiencing which they don’t know how to deal with.
Once you’ve done this, you’ll see that there’s not just more to the person than meets the eye but that they suffer just like you and I.
To be clear, you don't actually know why they're doing what they're doing. You're simply guessing. But keeping the 2 major points in mind, that we all suffer in some way and that we're all basically good, you know that it's something which exists beneath the surface.
So it's by taking the time to brainstorm what that thing might be which is causing suffering for them and leading them to lash out at others that you're able to let go of the anger and resentment within you and transform it into compassion and understanding.
Conflict usually involves one or more people causing hurt due to being overcome with anger, so if you can realize that the reason this person acted out with anger and aggression wasn’t because of you, but because of something deep within themselves that they’re hurting from, you can learn to cultivate a great amount of compassion for that person as well as alleviate your own feelings of anger and stress.
This is a very healing exercise which can be done at any time of day and in any situation. I’m not sure if I use this literally every single day, but it's close to it.
We’re constantly placed into situations where we have to interact with others, even when just driving on the freeway (and boy is it nice to get cut-off by a dangerous driver with my kids in the car!), so this is an exercise you can use literally daily to cultivate compassion, loving-kindness, and a deeper understanding of others.
Healing Through Understanding guided compassion meditation
If you'd like to take the Healing Through Understanding compassion meditation further, I featured it as a guided meditation on the Zen for Everyday Life podcast recently.
You can listen, as well as download the MP3 straight to your computer, here:
Listen to ZfEL #15: Guided Compassion Meditation - Healing Through Understanding
Additional Resources for Exploring Compassion and Loving-Kindness Meditation
Here are a few resources for exploring more conflict resolution, compassion, and loving-kindness meditations and mindfulness techniques:
- How to Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation
- How to Overcome Daily Challenges with Loving-Kindness Meditation
- Love is the Way: The Universal Path to Peace, Happiness, and Enlightenment
- 3 Ways Intimate Love Keeps Us from Peace and Happiness and How to Transcend Through Self-Love
- Why Compassionate Acceptance Is Key to a Healthy Mindfulness Practice (and How to Do It)