BOOK REVIEW: 4 steps to develop compassion like the Dalai Lama

Compassion is a critical element of emotional intelligence which is considered one of the key skills for now and even more important for the future. Daniel Goleman – the father of emotional intelligence – wrote a very interesting book A Force for Good which looks at the Dalai Lama’s vision for a better and more compassionate world. I chose 4 steps from the book which can help anyone develop compassion like the Dalai Lama.

Every day at 5.30 a.m., the Dalai Lama wakes up bright and early to listen to the BBC news while he eats his breakfast. Through this daily ritual, he’s come upon a great revelation.

Listening to the news reveals how full of violence, cruelty and tragedy our world really is. But why? The Dalai Lama believes it actually comes down to one single deficiency: a lack of compassionate moral responsibility.

Seems quite grim, doesn’t it? But look at this way: if humans have the power to wreak so much damage and destruction, then we might also have the power to exert an equivalent positive impact. This is what the Dalai Lama calls a force for good.

A force for good begins with individuals, and from within them. By creating an inner shift that diminishes our negative emotions and strengthens our capacity to act morally, we become better able to overcome impulsive reactions such as rage, frustration and hopelessness. This shift will also see us become more compassionate to those around us, and to our shared planet.

STEP # 1: Reflect on your emotional responses to make better decisions

Even the Dalai Lama had a short temper. Of course, he learned to master his emotions, and he did so with a few techniques that are simpler than you’d expect. One important technique entails taking a step back when tempted to act on your feelings and considering the consequences of your choices. In March 2008, the Chinese army shot at demonstrators and arrested many Tibetan protesters, particularly monks, during a series of protests in Lhasa and other cities. How did the Dalai Lama react? Of course, hearing such news would have filled him with rage. Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama chose to stay calm. He visualized the Chinese officials and replaced their negative feelings with his love, compassion and forgiveness. Having reasoned that the consequence of acting out of anger would only be further damage, he chose instead to control his feelings.

But remember: controlling your feelings is not the same as suppressing them altogether. Bottling up negative emotions can lead to outbursts that are impossible to control. When dealing with powerful emotions, it’s best to stay mindful.

We’re better off recognizing negative emotions when we experience them, and asking whether the emotions we feel are in proportion to the situation or whether they’re familiar. By understanding our negative emotions, we’re better equipped to channel them into positive actions.

STEP # 2: Connect to our biological predisposition to seek comfort in affection, compassion and a sense of belonging within a group

Compassion and awareness go hand in hand. Now that we’ve taken a closer look at emotional awareness, it’s time to delve into compassion, starting with where the notion comes from in the first place. In the Dalai Lama’s view of the concept, compassion is deep in our nature and does not come from religion. In fact, it is rooted in our biological makeup. Parents’ instinctive care for their young, who would otherwise die, is one sign of a biological predisposition for caring and compassion. Moreover, our bodies have built-in needs for positive emotions such as love, joy and playfulness. These experiences help to boost our immune strength and lower the risk of heart disease. But above all, we’re psychologically predisposed to seek comfort in affection, compassion and a sense of belonging within a group. Compassion puts our attention on something bigger than our petty concerns. This larger goal energizes us in turn.

STEP # 3: Make positive statements and build individual friendships as they are powerful solutions for conflict

Even the Dalai Lama concedes that humans will always create conflict – clashes of ideas are only natural. In order to cope with such clashes, good communication and mutual understanding are vital. In fact, it’s easier to create a healthy dialogue than you think. There are a handful of basic moves that you can turn to during a confrontation with another. The first is as simple as saying something positive about the other person and something positive about yourself.

That’s exactly what philosopher A. J. Ayer did in 1987 at a high-society party in New York. Notified that somebody was being assaulted, Ayer rushed to the scene to find Mike Tyson forcing himself on then-unknown Naomi Campbell.

Ayer insisted that Tyson stop, to which Tyson asked him, “Don’t you know who the (expletive) I am? I’m Mike Tyson, heavyweight champion of the world.” Ayer replied, “And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic. We are both preeminent men in our field; I suggest we talk about this like rational men.” While they talked, Campbell slipped safely out of the room.

In this situation, Ayer demonstrated commendable emotional intelligence. By saying something positive about Tyson and about himself, he established the foundation for an open dialogue on a level playing field.

But what if you’re facing a conflict that’s been around for months, years, even centuries? The solution is simple: friendship between individuals. To prove that this approach really works, social psychologist Thomas Pettigrew tracked down more than 500 studies from more than 38 countries, with responses from a quarter of a million people. He found that time and time again, an emotional involvement with someone from an opposing group, be it a friendship or a romance, was enough to overcome prejudice.

STEP # 4: Work with your children to concentrate, regulate and reflect on their thoughts

What parent doesn’t want their kid to get good grades? Although it seems healthy to encourage children to pursue academic success, it can lead to immense pressure and emotional damage. In a world where academic achievement is everything, the Dalai Lama believes that modern schooling needs a reform that prioritizes the heart. One way to educate the heart is through mind training. Mind training is not the same as learning facts, figures and historical dates. Rather, training the mind centers on improving a student’s ability to concentrate, regulate and reflect on their thoughts. Simran Deol, an eleventh-grader, sat with her eyes fixed on a dot in front of her while wearing a helmet that measured her concentration levels. Her concentration soon began to waver, so the Dalai Lama reminded Simran that, when training our mind, it’s useful to make a distinction between the mental and sensory levels of thought. As Simran observed the dot, her mind was focused on it on the sensory level. But this focus was hindered by other sounds and sensations. In order to sharpen her focus, Simran began to concentrate on the dot within the mental plane as well; this meant holding the image in her mind’s eye.

Her concentration made a striking improvement, demonstrating the power of a rather simple, but very useful technique. Just think of all the times when you know you could have made a better choice if you had just been more concentrated on the task at hand! Today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders, so we should equip them with what they really need: powerful, reliable ethics and the capacity for living by compassionate values. Using mind training exercises like the one performed by Simran, the Dalai Lama’s proposed education of the heart covers the basics of how the mind works: the dynamics of our emotions; skills for healthy regulation of emotional impulse; the cultivation of attention, empathy and caring; learning to handle conflicts nonviolently; and, above all, a sense of oneness with humanity.

Datum konani 22.8.2018

Radka Dohnalová

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