To live a better life, start with the life you have. Right now, that is the best possible life you can have. That life includes a certain amount of suffering, which makes it seem like it could be better. How you habitually respond to suffering influences the quality of your life. If you run away from suffering you develop avoidance habits. As you acknowledge and approach suffering, you develop compassionate habits.
Compassion is an awareness and an action. It is noticing suffering, looking to the causes of suffering, thinking of cures for suffering, and doing what you can to bring about those solutions. Sometimes you can do a lot, sometimes less. Learning what needs to be done and what you can do is part of the skill of compassion.
You can practice compassion for yourself. You are the best place to start because you directly experience your own suffering and you have some good ideas about where it comes from and what might help. As you learn to recognize how you suffer, you will also notice how other people suffer. When you see others suffer, practice compassion for them.
The more you practice compassion the better you get at it and the better your life gets.
The way to engage your compassionate mind is to breathe consciously. Deep breathing is your go to tool for a better life. Our bodies understand that. That’s why they knock us out every night so we can breathe in peace.
Simple ways to generate good feelings are to practice generosity and gratitude. Counting blessings is an age old practice of being grateful. Counting breaths is an age old practice of meditation. One method of mediation is to rest your attention on your breath and count as you breath in and out. You can set a timer and count your breaths from one to ten over and over again or you can meditate for about 15 minutes by counting 100 breaths. If you want to be extra Buddhist about it you can count 108 breaths.
Whether you mediate or not, you can practice gratitude by thinking of ten things that you are grateful for. That is counting blessings. Taking time to acknowledge the good things in your life helps you feel good. It contradicts pervasive thinking about problems and scarcity and reinforces the idea that life is good. When we believe life is good, each breath is a blessing.
We don’t have to feel good to believe life is good, but it makes it easier. That life is good is something we often take on faith. Believing it helps us endure periods of suffering. It gives us hope in humanity. It gives us a sense of purpose as we work to create justice and end oppression so that everybody can have an opportunity to experience life’s goodness.
Being alive is our opportunity to experience our connection to the natural world. With each breath we take we support our lives, we support our moods, we support our beliefs. Each breath we take is a blessing, but mostly we take our breathing for granted. Any time we need to remember that life is good we can check in with our breath. If we are breathing, that is good. If we take a minute to consciously breathe 10 times we will relax. If we take only 5 breaths in that minute, we will feel even more relaxed.
When we regularly practice counting our blessings or our breaths we create opportunities to appreciate life’s goodness. Sometimes we have to take it on faith that life is good. Sometimes we feel it.