Amazingly, when a community practitioner was invited to associate into high frequency emotions like joy, gratitude, and compassion, he stated, “I’d like to go there, but joy is above my pay grade.” What a quality-of-life bar to set!
We think 60,000-70,000 thoughts per day, 75%-95% of which are the same thoughts we thought yesterday, the day before that and five years ago. The preponderance of that percentage revolves around worry, anxiously planning, feeling inadequate or mistreated, and suffering! We are habituated to focusing our attention and aligning our energy with states that range from discomfort at one end of the spectrum to misery at the other.
The plasticity of our neuronal pathways is such that habitual negative thoughts continually imprint upon, and bolster unhealthy pathways that do not serve us, and reinforce corrosive emotional and behavioral patterns. We reflexively —most often unconsciously, live our lives through the automatic filters of past familiar, or traumatic experience. Yet, and still, while we’re caught up in this seductive vortex of negativity and drama, we continue to yearn for and expect an improved quality of life! What’s wrong with that picture?
We may know that if we deliberately break this pattern —if we do something different, we’ll be happier. But that which is familiar, even if it’s excruciating, often seems easier to deal with than venturing into the scary unknown, —even if the unknown is joy!
Pause for a long refreshing moment and consider what it would feel like if our thoughts, behaviors and habits were to revolve around joy, happiness, and contentment most of time! What aspects of our lives would shift if we divested our energy from battling our way through life with furrowed brows, and allotted it toward deliberately crafting lives that generate joy and wellbeing?
What would lives like that look like, feel like? What is it about our current thought, emotion and behaviors would need to change in order for that to happen? Are we willing to fundamentally disrupt our familiar, juicy drama and misery-laced comfort zones to let happiness in? How badly do we want to live in joy?
First we need to accept that such a joyful life IS possible, is NOT Pollyanna pie in the sky, and is NOT above our pay grade! The fact is that we have the ability to deliberately and skillfully self-regulate the quality of our emotions. Self-induced positive emotions increase the coherent harmony in bodily processes and foster wellbeing.
The compassion practices that we’ve been doing over the course of the last two months can take us down the path toward contentment and joy. They repeatedly take us out of the habit of form-focused self-involvement and clearly highlight the reality of our shared interconnection and humanity. There is tremendous joy and satisfaction in extending compassion to others.
Self-observing to garner a deeper understanding ourselves is our goal. We habituate ourselves to stepping outside of our subjective, form-focused self into a vantage point where we dispassionately watch the emotions that arise within us at various check points in the simulations.
Exercise #1 – Extending Compassion: Loved ones, “the neutrals,” challenging people, and ourselves.
- Make four lists:
- List one includes people who you love deeply.
- List two includes “the neutrals,” those people who are in our lives but who do not evoke strong emotion of any kind. Examples would be cashiers in stores, delivery persons, servers in restaurants, bank tellers etc.
- List three includes people who are a real challenge to deal with and push our buttons.
- List four is only us, ourselves.
- Bring up whatever image emerges in your mind’s eye when imagining, “Holding someone in your heart.”
- Proceed list by list, imagining that you hold one or more people from each successive list in your heart —whatever that means for you.
- Offer the following aspirations for persons on each list: May you you be safe, may you be healthy, may you know happiness, may you know joy, and may you experience a life of wellbeing.
- Visualize each person including yourself on list #4, bathed in the light, glow, warmth of compassion that you are extended.
- Observe the emotions that arise within you as you extend compassion to each group. Note differences, surprises, any shifts that occur over time as you repeat the practice.
Exercise #2 – “I see you.” Heightening awareness of shared humanity with “the neutrals.”
In real time, when you find yourself in the presence of a “neutral,” e.g. a restaurant server, a bank teller, a repair person, a cashier, etc.:
- Stop thinking about yourself, your worries, your planning and fully tune into the person in front of you.
- Become aware that the person in front of you has goals, dreams, and a story which are as important to them as your story is to you. Feel the resonance of your shared humanity. Check point #1: What emotion are you experiencing?
- Make strong (but not creepy) eye contact with the person, and silently extend your compassion to them in such a way that they know that you are fully focused and present with them. Communicate that you’re taking the time to truly see them.
- If you have the opportunity to speak with them, express compassion through your words.
- Notice by observing facial expression and body language, how the person is responding to you. Check point #2: What emotion are you experiencing?
- Check point #3: What emotion are you experiencing as you complete the interaction and go about your day? If the interaction has been positive, carry that energy forward into your day.
Exercise #3: Homelessness Practice
Simulation: You encounter a homeless person lying on a bench or against a building. The person’s body is fully wrapped in rags or blankets but the face is visible. The person is asleep and remains asleep throughout your interaction. There is a sign propped up against the person’s body asking for money and a cup for the money is next to the sign.
- You stop thinking about yourself, your worries, your planning and fully tune into the person in front of you.
- Become aware that the person in front of you has a life story and a set of circumstances that ended in homelessness. Feel the resonance of your shared humanity. Check point #1: What emotion are you experiencing?
- Decide whether you are going to put money in the cup. Check point #2: What emotion are you experiencing as you are making the decision?
- Check point #3: What emotion are you experiencing as you complete the interaction,, leave the scene and go about your day? If the interaction has been positive, carry that energy forward into your day.
- Every time you do the simulation:
- Change the face of the homeless person,
- Change what is written on the sign,
- Observe any shift in emotion that you experience.