Focus on a family member or loved one for this exercise. Imagine that person involved in a behavior or experiencing an impulse or emotion that feels difficult.

More fully activate your imagination by answering the following questions. It may be necessary to use your imagination and to speculate.
(Important note: If you find yourself reactive or activated in any way whatsoever, notice that with curiosity, then invite the activated emotion, judgment, or impulse to relax so that you can observe and reflect on this family member.)

Paying Attention: Describe nonjudgmentally what you see about this family member as you observe the person's experiencing the difficult feeling, impulse, or behavior.

  • What is the person's appearance? Describe this person's clothes, hair, expression.
  • What is the person's behavior?
  • What does the person seem to be feeling?
  • What else might the person be experiencing in this situation?
  • What else might be going on in the person's life that contributes to what is happening?

Understanding Empathically: Using your imagination if necessary, sense what may be the deeper suffering underneath this person's behavior.

  • Fears: What might the person fear?
  • Longings: For what might the person most deeply long?
  • Aching Wounds: What persistent and sensitive wounds may this person carry that exacerbate the pain of the person's situation?
  • Gifts Stifled: What gifts may the person have that are being frustrated or denied now?

Summarize your sense of this person's experience by filling in the following. If this person's behavior were a cry of suffering, it would say:

  • "Please understand (this about me)
  • I ache for….
  • Right now I most need…."

Write a prayer to whatever sacred presence is significant for your family member, a prayer that expresses what he or she would most deeply want the sacred to know about his or her pain, longings, or deepest needs. (If the family member is not religious, write it to someone, either living or dead, who is a healing and sacred presence in this person's life.) Write the prayer in the first person from this person's perspective. The prayers are confidential; you will not read them to anyone; feel free to express whatever feels right to you.

Andrew Dreitcer in Living Compassion