1. Catch your breath. Ground yourself in a way that is most helpful to you: listen to music, read a sacred text, light a candle, or sit in silence. Take several deep breaths and ease into an interior space that feels safe, grounding, perhaps sacred.
2. Take your PULSE.
Paying attention. Allow into your awareness various persons for whom you have difficulty feeling compassion — persons whose behavior or attitudes have triggered some form of reactivity within you recently. Of the various persons who have come to you, allow one to be the focus for this practice.
For a moment, imagine that person and his or her behavior you find difficult. In your imagination, ask that person to recede into some sequestered room, away over the horizon, or into the light of the sacred so you can feel safe from his or her presence and influence.
Turn your attention inward, and notice the feeling impulse or internal movement this person activated within you. Don’t let it take you into its power, but don’t judge or suppress it either. Simply cultivate a nonjudgmental awareness that this movement is present within you.
If you feel open to understanding this movement more deeply, proceed. If not, notice what you are feeling instead and invite that feeling to relax.
Understanding empathically. Invite this interior movement to surface the threatened need, sensitive wound, secret shame, or stifled gift underlying the movement’s intensity. If it is helpful, invite it to express itself as a person (a child, an angel, an older adult) or an object (a hot iron, a hammer). Ask this interior part of you whichever [of these] questions allow a deeper understanding and compassion within you.
- What is your deepest fear?
- What is your deepest longing?
- What aching wound still bleeds within you?
- What hidden gift feels stifled and frustrated?
Loving with connection. Let yourself feel a sense of compassionate connection to whatever part of you surfaces from within. Care for this part of you just as you would love a wounded or frightened child.
Sensing the sacredness. Invite an expansive sense of sacredness — a healing light, a soothing breeze, the presence of a divine figure, a compassionate ancestor, a mentor — to be with this part of you in healing and life-giving ways.
Embodying new life. Notice any new life or perspective that is emerging within you and allow this gift to flow throughout your body and into every part of your being.
If it feels right to cultivate compassion toward the difficult other, invite this interior part of you to relax so you can simply gaze upon this difficult person. Invite this part of you to rest on the side, to safely inhabit your prayer space, or to remain in the presence of a sacred reality like a healing light or a divine figure. When you feel open to observing the difficult person, turn and focus your attention on him or her.
3. Take the other’s PULSE.
Paying attention. Remember this person at a time when he or she was involved in the behavior that feels offensive. For a few moments, observe what he or she is doing and the particular way he or she is doing it without judgment or reactivity. Watch with an open curiosity like an artist preparing to paint a subject.
- What does the person look like — attire, facial expression, body posture?
- How does the person behave? What does he or she say? What emotions does he or she feel?
(Note: If you become activated, invite that reaction within you to relax — you are simply paying attention to this person.)
Understanding empathically. Remember that what this person says or does is rooted in some suffering—his or her behavior is a cry aching to be heard and tended. Cultivate a deeper understanding of the suffering hidden underneath his or her behavior by engaging the [following] questions:
- What seems to be his or her deepest fear?
- What is his or her deepest longing?
- What aching wound seems to be stinging him or her right now?
- What gift seems to be frustrated and is fighting to be recognized?
Loving with connection. If it emerges, let yourself feel a sense of compassionate connection to the suffering underneath the person’s behavior just as you would love a wounded or frightened child that needs care. Extend that compassion toward the other person.
Sensing the sacredness. If it feels right, notice if an expansive sense of sacredness is near and invite that presence — as a healing light, a gentle breeze, a divine figure, an image or symbol — to be with this person at the source of their suffering, tending them in whatever way feels healing and restoring.
Embodying new life. Sense the new life that yearns to be birthed within them and extend your desire for this healing or life to flourish.
4. Decide what to do. Sense if there is an invitation for one concrete way to stay true to what you have experienced in the practice when you encounter this person again. This might mean discerning ways to claim what you need for life, power, dignity, and wholeness. Or it might mean discerning ways to embody compassion for the other by remembering an image of this person in his or her suffering, carrying a symbol of your intention to react from a caring space, or thinking of a word or phrase that helps you remember this person as a beloved and sacred human being.
Before you encounter this person again, take a few moments and imagine different actions, practices, or gestures that can help you stay grounded in your core when you are with him or her, especially when he or she behaves in ways that knock you off-center. Such actions might include the following:
- taking deep breaths
- visualizing your sacred space or a sacred image
- touching a symbol or object kept in your pocket
- glancing away and connecting with something in nature
- imagining light surrounding you and/or the other person
- touching your heart
- connecting with your body
- repeating a silent mantra to yourself such as I am beloved
- silently remembering the Serenity Prayer or the Jesus Prayer
- squeezing your index finger
- curling your toes
Experiment with these grounding actions for a few weeks. Whenever you are with this difficult person (or any other difficult person), practice actions like the ones above and notice what helps you stay grounded during such encounters. If it feels right, you may try to listen for the cry that is hidden underneath the person’s words and behavior. Try to remember his or her suffering and humanity. See what it is like to remain grounded and connected to another’s humanity.— Frank Rogers in Practicing Compassion