Day 12 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge
Almost everyone is going around making judgments all the time, about others — and about themselves. It’s hard to remember to be compassionate, or to actually be compassionate if we remember. Here’s one perspective that helps me.
Behind every negative emotion, there’s a positive intent or valid need. So when we’re grumpy and unpleasant to people, for example, there’s a need and an intent to defend ourselves (our feelings being fragile and easily provoked at that time). When we crave something it’s because we’re short on happiness, and see the object of our craving as a source of the happiness we need. When we’re worrying about something we’re looking for a solution to something we find threatening. And so on.
Negative emotions are strategies for achieving happiness. The problem with them is that they don’t work! In fact they cause us further problems, which we then try to solve using more negative emotion. This is the vicious cycle that the Buddha called samsara — the endless “Faring on.”
Mindfulness and compassion are more effective strategies for dealing with those same needs. So our feelings are fragile and we mindfully and compassionately pay attention to them so that we don’t bite people’s heads off; we notice our craving, realize we’re in need of happiness, are mindfully aware that the thing we crave isn’t going to work, and seek a more skillful way to bring a sense of well-being into our lives; rather than worrying about change we learn to accept what we can’t change and focus on changing what we can change, etc., etc. The underlying needs, and the intent to meet those needs, are the same. But the way we go about meeting those needs is different. And more effective.
And it’s interesting to realize that all those people who annoy us by not being the way we want them to be (often by acting unskillfully) are themselves blindly trying to find happiness, pursuing failed strategies for the umpteenth time. They’re acting out of suffering, and as a result seek happiness but only end up creating further suffering for themselves and others. Because they don’t know of any alternatives.
When you realize this, it’s easier to be compassionate.