I’d like to suggest a simple practice for you.
For the next hour or so, let the first thought you have when seeing someone or meeting them face-to-face be: “This person suffers just as I suffer. This person, just like me, doesn’t want to suffer.”
“Seeing someone” can include seeing their photograph or seeing them on TV, as well as seeing them in person, or seeing them passing by.
You can try this for a longer period, of course, but I thought it would be good to try it for a very short spell initially, so that you don’t feel you’re taking on a task that’s too big.
I’d advise keeping these two phrases going prophylactically, so to speak; if you just have them running around your head whenever your mind would otherwise go off wandering, then it’ll be easier to call them to mind.
So as you’re driving, you can see cars in front or behind, going in the same direction as you or in other directions, and say to yourself, “This person suffers just as I suffer. This person, just like me, doesn’t want to suffer.”
You can do this as you’re walking along the street or cruising the aisles of a supermarket. You can do it in your office. You can do it when you’re in a meeting.
But it’s particularly to do this when you’re actually talking to someone.
Just try it and see what effect it has.
One person who tried this said it had helped “ground” him and stopped him from escalating tricky situations. Someone else who did this on the bus found that it lead to a loosening of their sense of having a “contracted self” and that they had a feeling of common experience with the other people.
Someone else said, “I felt a connection with the person … even a deep kindness. Think I could have perhaps even went over and gave them a cuddle so we could cry together.”
And yet another person tried this on public transport: “This practice just helped me keep it “chill” during a long, cross-town bus ride during which a baby was crying the whole time. Other riders were getting very bent out of shape, but thanks to this mindfulness practice I just went with the flow with kindly thoughts for everyone on the bus.”
One of the things I found happening today as I was bearing these phrases in mind toward passers-by was that I felt a strong sense of curiosity about them. It wasn’t like I had any specific questions in mind, like “I wonder what his name is,” but that I had a strong sense of an entire life being right there in front of me, just waiting to be explored.
I certainly feel much happier doing this practice. My usual thoughts — which sometimes reinforce unskillful mental states like anxiety and ill will — are displaced, and the new thoughts — “This person suffers just as I suffer; this person, just like me, doesn’t want to suffer,” lead to a sense of well-being, connectedness, and peace.
And this is a practice that you can keep “rebooting” during the day. Try it for an hour, and then another hour, and then another. What happens, I wonder, if this becomes second nature and we don’t even have to think about it? What happens when this ceases to be a practice, and just becomes part of who we are.