Cultivating Compassion

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” ~Albert Einstein

When asked to set our intention for our yoga practice in class today, my mind leapt immediately to something I have been thinking a lot about lately – compassion. Whether it be compassion toward my friends, my fellow human beings, all living things or the planet herself, I have come to realize I do not cultivate quite enough of it in my daily life. Upon reflection, I realize it is not because I am generally an uncaring person, but rather that I (like many of us) get caught up in the mundane activities of everyday life and forget that I do not live in a bubble, but am part of a larger whole that needs nurturing.

Recently I was in an Iyengar yoga class and was waiting patiently in line to return some props to their home when another student cut in front of me to put their props back first. I admit, rather shamefacedly, that I was peeved by the transgression. I carried the thought of queue jumping with me for quite a bit of that class. Afterwards, while we all were leaving the studio, I discovered that the student was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. The act of line-jumping was a physical necessity, not an affront to myself or our fellow yogis.

Yesterday I stumbled upon an article about extreme dieting. This brought up some raw memories for me – days of laxatives, vomiting and other unhealthy behaviors – and forced me to face how I act and react to the body. Not just the body I inhabit, but the physical world that surrounds us. Many times we take for granted the simple things in life. Our abilities and comforts are often mentally cast aside in favor of our current desires. In order to love and nurture others, we must also love and nurture ourselves.

So, how exactly can we cultivate compassion in our everyday lives? Here are some ways I am working on incorporating into my life:

  1. Smile. Smiles are contagious and can brighten even the darkest of days.
  2. Start a compost pile. Grow a garden. Nature is awe-inspiring and reminds us that the Earth is our support system.
  3. Give. Be it volunteering time or donating money, giving to others helps us all.
  4. Be grateful. Give thanks for the little things. Give thanks for each other.
  5. Call a friend. Tell them how much you care for them.

What are the ways you practice compassion?

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