How to Find CompassionCompassion brings us to a stop, and for a moment we rise above ourselves. ~Mason Cooley
I was on my way home after purchasing a lavender-scented candle to help kick start a relaxing atmosphere I desperately needed to wind down from a terrible and emotionally draining week at work. I was rummaging for my keys in my purse for what seemed like forever.
Oh no! Are you kidding me? I didn’t have my keys!
I could see my keys right now in my mind’s eye. There they were, resting on the table by the side of the door. That morning my boyfriend locked the door as we headed off to work, while I unknowingly left my keys at home.
The thing was that he just got on a bus to meet up with a friend on the other side of town.
I couldn’t help but laugh miserably at myself. What a fitting ending to a horrible week.
So, distraught, I walked down the street to the small coffee shop a few blocks away and waited at the table outside. The coffee shop had closed for the day and all the lights were off. I was by myself, just waiting for my boyfriend to come home to unlock the door.
Across the street from me, I could see a group of homeless people hanging around outside a building.
Feeling a little uneasy about being a woman sitting alone in the dark and worried about the possibility of being harassed, I made sure my back wasn’t facing them as I tried to look as busy as I possibly could (the label of a candle has never looked so intriguing as I have made it to look that night).
I could see a figure out of the corner of my eye, hobbling their way towards me. I took a deep breath and braced myself.
Easier to Move a Mountain
It was a woman who looked to be in her early forties with long blonde hair and meth sores on her face. She came up to me and said, ”Come hang out with us. My friend thinks you’re super cute.”
Oh great. Here we go.
Already beyond my threshold of what I could take that evening, I politely declined “No, thank you.”
I could have easily gotten up and walked away, but with my feet hurting from standing all day — I didn’t budge.
She asked me, “What are you doing out here all by yourself on a Friday night?”
I told her about my predicament and that my boyfriend was on his way home. She continued to persuade me to hang out with her and her friends and, when she realized it would have been easier to move a mountain, she asked if she could sit down with me.
Being alone and with nothing to do but sniff my lavender-scented candle, I shrugged and said “Sure, why not?”
A Homeless Woman’s Gift
With a concerned look in her eyes, she asked me if I was hungry because she had bags of fruit from a local church’s donation. Also, in cased I needed to go somewhere, she offered me a few extra bus tickets.
My attitude towards her immediately softened. We chatted for a bit, and she told me about what life is like living on the streets and her strained relationship with her daughters.
She then asked me how my week went and without second thought, I blurted out about everything that went wrong that week.
After about 15 minutes of telling her how much I couldn’t wait to quit my job, go home and take a relaxing bubble bath etc., I suddenly remembered who I was speaking to.
Here was a woman, right in front of me, who barely had anything in the world except a grocery cart filled with all her worldly possessions. She listened to me, offered me fruit from her limited ration of food and kept me company.
I was mortified at myself.
The whole time I was feeling terrible about my own situation. I was locked out of my apartment on an evening I was planning on devoting to myself. And instead of sitting in a luxurious bubble bath with candles and a glass of wine, I was sitting out in front of a coffee shop talking to a homeless woman.
But what I didn’t realize was that I was focusing so much on my own problems that I was missing the beauty of the moment right in front of me. A homeless woman was trying to help me feel better about my life.
Realizing this, I felt guilty about how selfish I was being.
Seeing a New Perspective
And it wasn’t just in this situation I was blinded by my own problems.
This is something that I think a lot of people deal with as well. We have the habit of getting so caught up in our own problems and challenges that we don’t remember to look at life from other people’s perspectives.
This memorable night I had with the homeless woman helped remind me that we are each fighting our own battles for a small slice of happiness in this chaotic world.
It’s easy to get caught up in our own problems and forget to look outside our selves.
Have you ever gotten upset because…
- That person you sent an email to last week didn’t write back? Perhaps they are going through a family crisis.
- Your partner isn’t being as loving and affectionate as you’d like? Perhaps he’s so stressed out with his finances or problems at work.
- Someone cut you off on the drive to work? Perhaps that person was rushing to the hospital to be by a loved one’s side.
- Your bossed snapped at you? Perhaps their wife or husband walked out on them the night before.
There are people out there who would gladly trade your problems for theirs. My point is, just think back to a time when someone was compassionate toward you when you needed it. Your smallest gestures of kindness can and do have a profound effect on someone’s day.
The secret to gaining more compassion is to get in the habit of seeing things through another person’s eyes, because behind every person’s action is a positive intention of finding their own slice of happiness in this world.
Share humanity with the person right next to you because on their toughest days, bestowing kindness is a gift that keeps on giving with a powerful and lasting effect.