5 Steps to Become More Compassionate (And Get More Out of Life!)

by Karim Saleh

Karim Saleh is a medical student currently living in Ireland who is passionate about social ethics and personal transformation. Meeting with Karim he expressed a desire to contribute the concept of “Compassion” to the Kingpin Social community, so I asked him to come here today and share his thoughts with you.

Enter Karim…

Hey there readers! Before I start spilling the goods, I just want to say a special thank you to Kingpin Social for letting me contribute to the great work they are doing because I believe in what everyone involved is trying to accomplish!

In the society we live in today, how do we define success? Usually, it is measured by what your profession is, how much money you have, what you look like, or other factors such as who you know/who knows you. Unfortunately, at this time most success seems to be measured by one’s bank account… but is that what we should really be valuing?

A dollar value says nothing about people or their intrinsic value. Every person has their personal strengths and their weaknesses, so it makes no sense to compare oneself to another person. A powerful concept in building a strong sense of identity is learning to compare you (in the present) to you (in the past). As you begin to integrate this concept you will realize that how you feel/think will be directly tied to pursuing your goals/purpose. When slacking off or not taking action, you feel less than awesome. But when you do, you feel as if you can take on anything!

compassion

Compassion isn’t fundamentally integrated into Western society because being compassionate doesn’t ‘make you the big bucks’. Being compassionate is a personal choice. A mission. It is a decision to treat others as if they are extensions of yourself. It involves seeing people as equals and treating them with respect. We are all human beings who have been born into situations that may have been favorable or unfavorable. As far as we know, this is all based on luck. I know I had no decision which family I was born into, or who my classmates were, or who my co-workers are, and all of these people have a significant impact on my life. Attempting to understand and connect to another’s suffering and helping to alleviate it can be a great source of happiness for you and others. Additionally, by attempting to be more accepting, loving and gentle with yourself for things you cannot change, you can begin to see things from a brand new perspective: a perspective where nothing is truly bad or good in the big picture – it just is. This point of view can accelerate change drastically. It allows you to see your life objectively, and enhances your ability to understand your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. This allows you to become more centered. I want to share a powerful example from “Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn that I read many years ago on the idea of compassion:

…From the perspective of patience, things happen because other things happen. Nothing is separate or isolated…there is no end-of-the-line buck stops here root cause[for anything]. If someone hits you with a stick, you don’t get angry at the stick or at the arm that swung it. You get angry at the person attached to the arm. But if you look a little deeper, you can’t find a satisfactory root cause or place for your anger even in the person who literally does not know what he is doing and is therefore out of his mind at that moment…

Where should the blame lie? Or the punishment? Maybe we should be angry at the person’s parents for the abuse they may have showered on a defenseless child? Or at the world for it’s lack of compassion? But what is the world? Are you not a part of that world? Do you not have angry impulses? Peace, and a willingness to be patient in the face of such enormous provocation and suffering can only come about from the inner cultivation of compassion: a compassion that is not limited to friends, but is felt equally for those who out of ignorance -often seen as evil- may cause you and those you love to suffer…That degree of selfless compassion is based on what Buddhist’s call ‘right mindfulness’ and ‘right understanding’. It doesn’t just spring up spontaneously…it needs to be practiced and cultivated. It is not that feelings of anger don’t arise, it is that the anger can be used, worked with, harnessed so that it&rsquo ;s energies can nourish patience, compassion, harmony and wisdom within ourselves…and perhaps others as well.

compassionThis example has stayed with me throughout my adult life. If we look at people’s individual decisions as a compilation of their world view and their experience, it allows us to have some perspective in interpreting what is happening or what has happened. Being understanding does not excuse poor behavior, but reacting out of the same lack of control and understanding is not useful either. Learn about yourself and why you do things the way you do without blaming yourself, and try to apply this to other people in your life. Identify with their struggle without letting the emotions overrun you. It is in this way that you can help them by being a grounding force.

By getting an objective view of suffering and learning to manage yours and others emotions, each person can learn to transform all experience. Any negative event can be traced back to certain decisions or circumstances and, in turn, can allow one to correct the underlying situation without blaming others. Through becoming more compassionate, you gain greater awareness over what you can control, giving you a great sense of your impact on other people and in this world. This awareness in itself can strengthen your self-image in a healthy way, give you greater satisfaction within your life and allow you to become responsible as an individual. One of the most rewarding experiences is sharing your skills or knowledge with someone who can use what you know. By transforming your point of view from yourself to others around you, you start to recognize what you already have and that which you might take for granted. This allows you to develop a mentality of abundance. This is widely recognized by most personal development “gurus” as a necessary shift in understanding for becoming fulfilled and happy. Instead of keeping all your emotions, knowledge, and actions for yourself because you feel like you “don’t have enough time” or “have enough of your own problems”, give a little more than you normally would without expecting anything in return. Give for longer than you normally would. Take a moment to notice how your mind and body react. I guarantee it will be a worthwhile exercise…

By caring about other people more we can live better lives?

In a nutshell… YES. The more you understand about the nature of human behavior, the more everyone’s behavior will make sense for you (including your own). Over time, I have learned that everyone’s behavior can be understood if you look deep enough and in the context of a person’s life. Our lives can become dominated by fear if we allow them to be. On the other hand, being compassionate with yourself and others is putting your effort into love and appreciation. Paradoxically, this can brighten up your life when you start choosing love instead of avoiding fear.

compassionWe are the only species in the world that has the extraordinary ability to alter the nature of our thoughts and purposefully change our behavior. Instead of pointing out other’s flaws or arguing about people with the intent of changing their minds (which never works unless you have two very open-minded and self-aware individuals), take a step back and focus on things you CAN control: YOUR behavior. Accept others for where they are at the point in their path, and maybe when you are in a centered place you can gently try to explain your position.

Here are 5 great ways to bring compassion into your life and develop an attitude that brings vitality to yours and others’ lives!

  1. Practice Humility through Meditation: Meditation is a great way to get to know yourself better. If you are looking for an amazing resource for getting started on meditation, I found the book “Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn (quoted earlier) to be an amazing tool in aiding my own personal growth. It is a book that focuses specifically on Mindfulness Meditation and the book I used to better understand my experience. Start with a few minutes a day and, if you give it a fair shot, I’m sure you will find plenty of enjoyable experiences ahead of you. One tip: resist your first, second and even third attempts to stop meditating.
  2. Love yourself! ALL of you. Every thought, every impulse, every last bit. Love yourself as you are now. This may mean you have to come to terms with some parts of your past so you can embrace who you are today. Understand that all your experiences made you the person you are today, and that suppressing parts of yourself or being embarrassed of things will not help you be objective or realistic about change. Once you accept what you consider to be your flaws, and even learn to appreciate those things you are in a better place to improve those things which are OK but which could be BETTER. If they are things you cannot change, laugh about them. No one is perfect.
  3. Share your presence. Spend some time with people who are going through a rough time or who are lonely. Volunteer at a nursing home, or on a cancer ward. Get involved with less fortunate children who could use a positive influence in their lives. Below is a link for Big Brother and Big Sister organizations in Canada and the United States. If you are not from these areas, a simple google search should put you in touch with similar organizations.
  4. Calibrate your Perceptions: Be Accepting and Understanding. Look at other people (strangers included) as no different from yourself. Status is truly an illusion once you can begin to see your insecurities and fears objectively. Regardless of another’s perceived status, look at others as human beings as more than what they appear. Through circumstances, luck and decision-making, they ended up in the situation they are in now. Those with “less than you” and those with “more than you” are people who endure the same challenges you do. Recognize that compassion isn’t only limited to those who are “poor”, but can also include those who are considered “rich” yet are miserable. Just noticing these things is a huge step in the right direction.
  5. Remember the Golden Rule: Walk a mile in another’s shoes. Think of someone really important to you. It could be you, a boyfriend/girlfriend a family member or even someone else. Now think of another person lying, cheating, ignoring, hitting, or basically doing something damaging to that person. If that upsets you, ask yourself why you do hurtful things to other people? If your answer is, ‘they deserved it’ well then, in your mind, that justifies the person’s behavior who did that to your loved one. Just because you don’t know someone, or because someone did something bad to you doesn’t justify you losing your mind and losing control of yourself. Treat others the way that you would want them to treat your loved ones. What to watch out for: you will quickly notice that other people may take advantage of this or you might even think/feel that nobody appreciates it so what is the point? Just because other people don’t really understand why they do things, doesn’t make it okay for you to do things… does it? If you know better but still do something you don’t agree with because everyone else is doing it, you are passing up on living YOUR life. You are in the process of learning better and gaining better self-control. Be gentle and firm.

So what do you think? Which of these 5 steps are you going to start with TODAY, and how are you going to keep it in mind? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. Action starts today.

About Karim Saleh
Karim Saleh is a multifaceted medical student living in Ireland who is passionate about social ethics and personal change. His main goals in life are meeting extraordinary people and sharing his knowledge and experience for the benefit of others. He lives his life by "Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own." (Bruce Lee) He has big hopes and plans for the future, and big hopes and plans for YOU. Contact Karim at karisaleh@rcsi.ie

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda Timmins June 20, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Karim,

This post is incredibly insightful. Very nice work.
I especially love the second and fifth steps as these have always been difficult for me to accept (especially the second one).

Look forward to, perhaps, reading more in the future!

: )

Hafee June 21, 2012 at 12:45 am

Love this post! The way you’ve laid it out makes it seem like it should be common sense for all of us to be compassionate. However, general society has taught us that “success” often times, might have to come at the expense of others and may require us to be selfish. Thank you for this post and for the tips on how to work towards becoming more compassionate. Great post!!!

Jamie Barber June 21, 2012 at 12:06 pm

This is the best advice since I read the book “The Art of Happiness” by the Dali Lama over 5 years ago! Thank you for putting these thoughts at the front of my mind.

Zia Saleh June 21, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Quite insightful. I share your passion for compassion and will benefit from practicing your suggested 5 methods. Looking forward to more powerful posts.

Cam June 21, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Thanks for commenting guys. I couldn’t agree more, this is a great post by Karim. 🙂

Karim Saleh June 21, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Wow guys, I am blown away by all the attention this article is getting. As time goes by, I realize how important compassion is becoming to me. It is a part of me, and I love to see others thriving…I think there is a better way of going about it without it being such a win-lose situation…always win-win…there’s always a way 🙂

@ Amanda – Thanks so much! I am very grateful that you want to see more from me, and I hope that this post reassures you that others are on the same path as you. The second step is a tough one for sure. I think the important thing is reminding yourself that over time you will become better at catching yourself when you are off track. As long as you stick at it and try to keep a smile on your face…you’ll get it…I’m sure of it 🙂

@ Hafee – I appreciate the comment. I am hoping through educating ourselves and sharing information with each other we can find new ways of living…ways that give us the lives we have always dreamed of but have been told we can’t have: by our teachers, by our parents, by our friends, by our bosses…the list goes on. We can have that…and we will find new ways. We are smarter than we know, all we have to do is keep our heads and hearts in the game…and the score will even up 🙂

@ Jamie – Wow, I don’t know what to say. I honestly don’t know what to say. That is an incredible compliment and all I can hope for is that the knowledge we share can really help us reach new levels…and bring others up with us. Thank you Jamie. You are very kind. 🙂

@ Zia – I hope you do find the 5 methods useful and I hope you continue to develop your compassion as it is a tool that can truly revolutionize our lives. I am sure you have already realized this by now. I am looking forward to sharing the pieces of the puzzle that were really important to me and I hope that anything I share in the future is also helpful for others.

@ Cam- Cheers brotha! I appreciate the support…and am looking forward to reading the articles you guys put up in the future! Keep up the great work! 🙂

salim fakim June 22, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Im loving your article karim. There is so much inspiration coming out of what you write. keep up the good work bro.

Jonesy June 23, 2012 at 8:02 am

Absolutely incredible! This article is simply oozing with value & insight, with almost taoist overtones. I’ll certainly be returning to this regularly in the future 🙂

Cam June 23, 2012 at 11:44 am

Thank you for commenting Salim and Jonesy! I hope you both enjoy the rest of the website too!

Shy Hirani June 29, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Kimmm – this article really spoke to me and has helped me on my own quest for compassion
I have found that being centered and at peace with your own existence is so crucial in being able to separate yourself from worldly ideas and norms, separating yourself from what seems like a way of “settling” in the ins and outs of how our society seems to operate… you made it so clear how being compassionate is separating yourself from this way of thinking and really looking at others and their experiences objectively.. this made so much sense to me!!!
Your take on understanding people and their life histories and trajectories instead of placing blame is one of the hardest things to do I find and I loved how you tied love of self and meditation into this – this is not a tie most people would think of right off the bat, but yet it is so necessary.
In my own understanding of compassion I have really tried to search for an altruistic compassion – being kind to others with no thought of self or self-satisfaction.
I think it is of the utmost importance to be compassionate to those that are vulnerable or to those that are misunderstood or don’t have a voice to speak for themselves, this goes hand in hand with being able to understand someone who may hurt someone else, everyone just wants to be understood right? A more compassionate existence in this world is so important and I think you couldn’t have put it down on paper any better.. thanks for such a thoughtful post I can’t wait to read whats next 🙂

Cam June 30, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Thank you for leaving your feedback Shy. 🙂

Hannah B July 15, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Thanks so much Karim for this very insightful and inspiring piece!
You have intertwined so many important elements under the one manageable theme…and compassion is such a great theme at that. You raise such an important issue regarding understanding others, it seems to me we get so lost in our own egos that we loose sight of what is really important, I see the job of the ego is to seperate us from others and whilst we think this makes us happy more often that not it just hurts us and hurts those around us. Connecting with and helping others is where we find meaning in our lives and happiness comes from finding a way that we can do this in a personally enjoyable way. I think lots of people get deterred from helping because they try to help the way others do rather than finding the way that resonates with them personally at a time which works for them personally. I think this is where compassion for oneself comes in, we all could use a little more self care in our lives. After all if we aren’t able to take care of ourselves how can we possibly adequately help others. It starts here, with self compassion, that was a hard one for me to adopt because I’m so afraid of being selfish. It has helped me so much to read articles such as yours to realize the massive difference between the two.

I could go on and on now that I am feeling inspired by what you have said!
Thanks again, I look forward to hearing more insights in the future.

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