On Increasing the Compassion in Your Life

by Reverend Charles Bidwell, Ph.D.

To increase the sense of love in your life, wish the best for others even when they cause you pain; if you can't bring yourself to do that, then at least do not wish them harm. That's the short answer; but what makes it challenging to live out, is the pain we often feel.

Pain is a part of being alive. If you don't sometimes feel pain, then you are not growing and are not alive to what's going on around you. But there is productive pain and there is signal pain.

Productive pain or suffering leads to growth and learning. Signal pain should be numbed as soon as possible.

By signal pain, I mean the pain associated with headaches and trauma and disease. Once you have felt the pain (a physical warning to stop what is causing the pain), to continue to suffer is not helpful. I encourage you to do what you can to remove or reduce the cause or at least to mask it. Take a pain-killer and rest your injured body.

Complaining about the pain, and doing nothing to relieve it, is an irritant to those about you. Care for yourself; treat/love yourself as you would your best friend. Love yourself as you love your neighbor.

Now, back to productive pain.

By productive pain, I mean the painful experiences we encounter when we work at being in relationship with another person. Our words and actions, and their words and actions, are often misunderstood (another case where ignorance of the true intention causes suffering - "But I thought that meant that you...").

Productive pain sometimes starts out from ignorance (not knowing or understanding) but it also sometimes starts out from a basic negative life posture that suspects or believes the worst first, and never assumes the best interpretation or intention on the part of the other. With pain, we can learn to check out our perceptions with the other. Having the courage to ask for clarification, and even to admitting our negative interpretation, can be painful, but it is productive pain because it results in learning more about the other person and how to understand their words and actions.

The other productive pain we may encounter in that process is to learn from them how our words and actions affect their feelings. Think of someone that you have had difficulties with recently. Did you check out your interpretation of their words and actions, or did you believe the worst and suffer unnecessary pain?

If they meant to cause you pain, then they mat be in great pain themselves. A dog was hit by a car outside our house and limped up onto our lawn. We went to rescue it and take it to the vet but as we got close enough to touch it, it snapped as if you bite us. It was in such pain that it had to threaten to cause us pain if an effort to protect itself. Some people who are in deep pain in their lives snap at us and we need to take that not as a personal attack but as a signal that they are in deep pain. We may not be able to ease their pain, but we can absorb what they send to us and let it lie there rather than attack back and add to the emotional pain of both of us.

If they meant to cause you pain, then they may be under evil influences, and we need to pray for them to experience more love, more insight, more compassion in their lives. We need to wish the best for them - at least better than they are experiencing now.

If they meant to help you to learn and to improve your relationship(s), then they are wishing the best for you.

Love (wish the best for) all people and you will reduce your suffering and the amount of anxiety and pain in your world and in the whole world by that much.

That's one way you can increase the compassion in your life and reduce the potential for harm to others.

Dealing With Negativity

While you are learning to deal with pain in your life, you might also want to deal with negative or depressive thinking. In some faith communities this is called "worm theology" - you know, the talk about "I am unworthy" and "woe is me, I am a sinner". But I say unto you that you are a child of our Creator, and God doesn't make trash. So, to make room for more compassion in your life, shift away from negative thinking.

When you feel a negative emotion, evaluate its usefulness and consider repenting. Repent means to turn - to turn to a different direction. When you experience a destructive, inhibiting negative thought, try hard (it may be very challenging at first) to switch it to a positive direction.

Sometimes what seems to be a negative, destructive emotion or thought is actually a positive, productive emotion or thought. Anger can come from a feeling that an injustice has occurred and the anger gives you the energy to act to seek a just solution.

Saying "No" to a request or invitation can be a positive action when it keeps you from agreeing to something that you are unwilling to do, or keeps you from taking on a responsibility that you cannot give the needed time and energy to fulfill. It's often a self-care response to say "No".

On the other hand, negative emotions and thoughts are destructive when they keep you from accepting an opportunity to grow and learn. Replaying negative tapes in your mind that tell you how limited you are in ability is a destructive or inhibiting influence in your life. Risk ignoring them. Taking on a new challenge may be painful but you'll know from that productive pain that you are alive and growing.

When you are aware of a negative feeling or thought, evaluate it. If it is productive or energizing - then use it. If it is destructive and inhibiting your growth, then repent - change you perspective or attitude to a more positive, productive feeling or thought (even if you have to fake it at first).

Each negative emotion that rules our actions has a positive counterpart that we can turn to. If we train ourselves to stop for a moment when a destructive negative appears to us, then we can use that moment to repent it into a more positive idea.

When you feel jealous, stop, repent, and think how positive that situation is for that person: wish them the best, and the best will come rebounding back to you.

When you feel greedy, stop, repent, and recall the joy of being generous, the pleasure you have experienced when you gave someone something they needed or could use. [I'm not recommending that you pretend that you are a bank and give out loans.] What goes around comes around, but "In wanting, I give to receive; in loving, I receive from giving." [Brock Tulley]

When you feel hatred and resentment, stop, repent, and work at the painful turning of that feeling into forgiveness. You need never forget the wrong you have received (learn from it) but forgive that person's action as being the result of the stage in their personal or spiritual development (growth) that they were in at the time. Repent and move beyond being eaten up inside (some folks literally get stomach ulcers) with hatred and release it by growing on to forgive them.

Repent (turn to a different direction) all your destructive negative feelings and thoughts and you will reduce your suffering and increase the positive energy present in your world and in the whole world by that much.

That's another way you can increase the compassion in your life.

In Short

To get more compassion in your life, deal with productive pain and look for the positives in your life. What does this say: HEAVENISNOWHERE?

If you see it as reading "heaven is no where," then it's time to repent and try looking at it as "heaven is now here". If you can't find any heaven in your life, then set about trying to make some in another person's life - volunteer, visit, ask if you can be of any help.

"Happiness is like peanut butter--you can't help getting some on your self when you spread it around." [The Gospel According to Peanuts by Robert L. Short].