“The essence of your communication is the response you receive”, a principle I experienced long ago in a neurolinguistics programming (NLP) course, stays true with me today. It tells me whether or not I’ve understood or been understood, been compassionate, or treated something with loving kindness. It lets me know if my intention to do all of these things was carried out. Although at times it seems impossible or at least problematic, crossing the bridge to this level of understanding and compassion does improve lives.
Stopping us, however, from making this transition with whatever we encounter in life are usually our thoughts and especially emotions like fear, anger, or disgust. Mentally changing places with another who has treated us badly, for example, may be unthinkable or too much to bear. After all, what might we experience inside that person? Something ranging from almost nothing to that which might be extremely secretive and dark? Whatever it is, many would rather look at it from afar or not at all. Understanding such a thing theoretically is usually enough for them.
In my own experience, however, I’ve learned that ignoring something which has concerned or upset me just puts off an inevitable, sometimes unfortunate confrontation with myself or another, so it’s better for me to deal with it rather than let it fester. There’s a notion of “surrendering to the moment” in this experience. For example, the other morning I woke up from some rather unsettling dreams. After thinking about their tone and characters for a while, I decided to take the time to exchange places, i.e., put myself into the shoes of the personalities in the dreams. First, I started with those that were less scary and then systematically went through the rest of them. As I did so, there were some pretty amazing revelations which created a feeling of compassion for these characters, these parts of me, and I felt comfortably relieved. I was glad that I’d dropped my defenses, admitted that I was afraid of these personalities, and investigated them. Just taking a moment, however, and doing the same thing with a living, breathing person isn’t quite as easy, but it’s also possible and rewarding in what you understand and develop compassion for while maintaining a professional or personal relationship, or perhaps even gaining a new friend. Though it’s much easier to start with dreams or some of the dragons we have in our memory banks while developing the courage and the experience to do it with others face to face, such as rebellious children or cantankerous neighbors and bosses!
Moreover, the time we spend on the side of what scares, disgusts, or angers us, what we may even pity, can help us to feel some of our compassionate desires become true within moments. For example, “may my heart become soft”, is a wish made by thousands in metta prayers (loving kindness). It becomes a realization when you mentally change places with an indigenous woman holding her baby while begging on a sidewalk. Why? Simply because you feel and understand the truthful experiences of hunger and need in that person while also discerning what is not true. The heart softens but does not become stupid. Another metta desire, “may my words be pleasant to others”, is often realized as understanding lessens the desire to speak angrily with people who confront us. And last, “may my actions be kind” frequently results when we understand, feel compassion, and act wisely to help others after having exchanged our self for theirs; for example, giving food to the beggar instead of money. Realizing that communication is a two-way street is something many of us have learned in classes. Unfortunately, the part about how to cross the bridge to stand in another’s shoes probably wasn’t part of the lesson.
“That’s the rest of the story,” however, as the famous radio commentator, Paul Harvey, used to say. If we want to be happier by developing true compassion and understanding, then we’d better be ready to make that trip. Ignoring what puts us off today just delays the inescapable. Peace and happiness evolve much quicker if we deal with life head on. In conclusion, may you choose to journey to the other side, for it’s a true way to experience, comprehend and be kind hearted for what’s within you and facing you.