Monthly Archives: August 2015

What To Do With the Rest of Your Life?

Every moment we face the big question of what to do with the rest of our lives. Mostly, we push that question aside and continue doing what we were already doing with our lives. In quiet moments of discontent, that question occurs to us, and the possibilities and impossibilities both seem frightful.

For some, that question is all consuming. Young and old people, making major life decisions for themselves, applying for schools or jobs, choosing, changing or losing careers, entering or exiting relationships, or looking for, or facing, a change in their life will often torture themselves with the question of what to do with the rest of their lives.

The question should not be so painful. The pain is the overwhelming weight of an idea of what we are and what a successful life should include and exclude, and in wondering how it might be possible to get there from where we are. When where we are is painful, it is natural to want to get someplace else. It is not hard to imagine that, with a few fortunate changes in circumstance, we would find contentment in our lives and follow a rewarding path toward happily ever after. The question of what to do with the rest of our lives, begins with the extremely fortunate circumstance that we have a life and options. What we will do with the rest of our life is impossible to fathom.

Feeling contentment in the life that you have and with who you are is a reasonable goal and one you can begin to pursue now and for the rest of your life. Feeling contentment with your life and who you are will only help you in creating the life that you want for yourself. To find contentment now, look at your life as it is. Look without any judgement and with compassion. See what you have. Think of your friends, family and people whom you love. Think of the people who love you. Think about things that you are good at doing. Think of things you like to do. You can feel contentment, even while some or many things are not as you would like them to be. In this moment, things are as they are. You feel as you feel. In the next moment, things will change and you will adjust to how things will be then. For the rest of your life, that is what you will do.

For the rest of your life, you will have your breath and your body. Whenever you are faced with the question of what to do with the rest of your life, use your breath to remind yourself to check in with your mind and body, see what you are feeling, see what you are thinking, remember to be compassionate, and you will choose wisely about what you should do in the moment, and for the rest of your life.

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Empathy and Compassion

Empathy is understanding what another person is feeling. It is an important element of compassion. Compassion is an active process that relieves suffering, both for yourself and others. When you are compassionate with yourself, you feel better. When you are compassionate with others, they feel better and you feel better.

Both empathy and compassion are skills. Our brains are wired to reflect and feel each other’s emotions. We read obvious and subtle clues from others and we constantly broadcast our emotional states for all to see. We read and broadcast emotional states through our facial expressions, tone of voice, posture, scents, and texts. We use our emotional states to attract and repel people and we are repelled by and attracted to others based on the emotions that they project.

We do much of this attracting and repelling, reading and broadcasting, subconsciously. If somebody is screaming in our face, we can reasonably interpret that they are angry. They feel anger, they broadcast anger, we read anger, and we understand that they are angry.  We do that so easily and so regularly that we don’t think about it. What we tend to think about is what that person is screaming about. Empathy happens behind the scenes, but we can easily bring it to our attention, which creates an opening for compassion.

If somebody is screaming in our face, we may have a hard time noticing our empathy and remembering to use compassion.  We naturally become defensive to protect ourselves from the potential and actual violence of the anger. We would likely feel the anger so strongly that we would get angry ourselves. We could respond with any emotion, depending on who we are and who is yelling at us. What emotion we feel and project in response to the anger, will have an affect on the original anger. If we remember to use compassion, we can find a suitable response that will make the situation better.

When we practice compassion, we find ourselves caring about our own emotional states and the emotional states of others. We recognize how much we, and those around us suffer, and we acquire techniques that help us engage with and relieve the suffering.

To practice compassion, we begin by noticing suffering. If we are suffering, we practice compassion toward ourselves. We look into our suffering to see what may be causing it. We imagine what would alleviate the suffering. We think about what we can do to help ease the suffering. If there is something we can do, we do it. If we notice suffering in another person, we do the same thing for them. Like any skill, the more we practice compassion, the better we get at it.

When we practice empathy we notice suffering. When we practice compassion we ease suffering. We won’t always know what we need to do to ease another person’s or our own suffering, but with practice, we get better, and as we practice, we suffer less.

 

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