10 Easy Ways To Cultivate Compassion

Physician and New York Times bestselling author By Lissa Rankin, M.D.
Physician and New York Times bestselling author
Lissa Rankin, M.D., is the New York Times bestselling author of "Mind Over Medicine," "The Fear Cure," and "The Anatomy of a Calling." She is a physician, speaker, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, and mystic. Lissa has starred in two National Public Television specials and also leads workshops, both online and at retreat centers like Esalen and Kripalu.

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The virtue of compassion is universally valued.

When you commit to practicing compassion, your relationships become more intimate. Anxiety and depression lessen. Your mind becomes quieter, allowing you to receive clearer inner guidance. You become more attractive to people you meet because they can feel your heart. You’re more likely to find your calling. You feel the deep fulfillment of knowing you are contributing to a more loving world.

But what exactly is compassion? And how do we cultivate it in everyday life? Here are a few tips:

1. Start by practicing self-compassion.

Most of us have harsh inner critics who judge us, put us down, and punish us when we make mistakes. As long as you have an inner general beating you up for your inevitable imperfections, you’ll find it difficult to be compassionate with others when they reveal their humanness.

To practice more self-compassion, try the inner child meditation technique you can download free as part of my Fulfill Your Calling kit. If you practice this meditation regularly, especially when you’re feeling tender or remorseful, you'll learn to fire your inner general. As a result, you’ll discover that you already have a gentler and more nurturing force living inside you — one that can keep you aligned with your highest self.

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2. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Life is hard, but we’re all doing the best we can. As the saying goes, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." This video from the Cleveland Clinic will soften your heart and grow your empathy muscles.

Life is hard, but we’re all doing the best we can.

3. Move beyond your self-referencing.

From the time we are children, many of us are taught the, “It’s all about me” mentality. But in reality, we are all one. Practice shifting your perspective away from exclusively thinking about how something affects you. This doesn’t mean selling yourself out in order to be nice to someone else — that’s not self-compassion! But it does mean expanding your awareness to make room for the interconnectedness that unites us all.

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4. Practice kindness, without people-pleasing.

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, says, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” But many people mistake people-pleasing and approval-seeking with kindness. Kindness doesn’t mean selling out what’s true for you in order to make someone else feel good. Authentic kindness stems from a place of wholeness within, where there is no separation between the giver and the receiver. Whether you’re giving gifts, granting forgiveness, or bestowing love upon someone, true kindness blesses you as much as it does the one you're serving.

5. Relax your judgments.

What if we could just let go of all the dualistic judgments that label everything as “right” or “wrong,” “good” or “bad?” What if, instead, we could just trust that life is hard and everyone is doing the best they can? Releasing judgment of others starts with letting go of self-judgments.

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6. Listen generously.

Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. teaches the practice of “generous listening” as a gateway to compassion and a tool for healing. Most of us don’t truly listen. We’re always interrupting, judging what someone says, or trying to fix. Rachel says, “Listening creates a holy silence. When you listen generously to people, they can hear truth in themselves, often for the first time. And in the silence of listening, you can know yourself in everyone. Eventually, you may be able to hear, in everyone and beyond everyone, the unseen singing softly to itself and to you.”

7. Heal your own trauma.

If you hold on to unhealed trauma, you'll likely traumatize others unintentionally. Just as the abused child often grows up to become the abuser, inner turmoil tends to inflict outer turmoil. If you are in need of deep inner healing, seek out the support of a skilled therapist, spiritual counselor, or life coach who can facilitate your inner transformation. When you do the work to heal your psyche and connect to your soul, compassion is a natural by-product.

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8. Practice presence.

Try being fully present with everyone you encounter. Avoid looking at your phone, multitasking, glancing at the TV behind your lunch date, or paying attention to anyone other than the one you’re with. Make eye contact. Notice body language. See if you can really feel what the other might be thinking beneath the words. When you are truly present, your presence has a tendency to be experienced as compassion.

Try being fully present with everyone you encounter.

9. Practice radical self-care.

In order to truly offer compassion to others, you first have to fill yourself. This kind of behavior is not selfish; it’s self-care. Once you tend to your own needs, you can serve others from a place of overflowing love, energy, and abundance. You feel so good that you want to share your bounty with those who can use a little uplifting.

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10. Try the 21-Day Compassion Challenge.

To help you learn more tools for practicing compassion with yourself and others, I created a video course with Rodale, which offers 21 days of written teachings, daily practices, and videos with my mentors: Adyashanti, Rachel Naomi Remen, and others. Check it out, and challenge yourself to 21 days of practicing compassion.

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