This exercise is from my workbook-in-progress, The Kind Self-Healing Workbook: Tools for Raising Yourself with Compassion & Curiosity!
Humbly Seeing 3 Sides to The Story
I believe humility is a deep strength. It requires (and tests) our comfort level with believing in our worth while regarding that same worth as equal to all things. I do mean all things in the universe. When we can regard all as equal, we can hear one another. if you can know that your truth is valid while appreciating the different truth of another person–and even truths and perspectives that perplex you–compassion is achieved. True, vital compassion.
Tonglen is a healing practice that’s part of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. I once read about it in an article by Tich Na Hah in Shambala magazine. The power of it (once I tried it) absolutely blew me away. Tonglen involves focusing on the pain or ailment of another person (that stranger who just dropped his iPhone in the road or the homeless man begging for spare change) while inhaling that pain–into you. As you exhale, you then push joy or hope or some positive feeling their way. (I know, it sounds too simple. And maybe it sounds like you can “catch” their problem by breathing in their ailment; however as soon as you try it, you’ll see how absurd that worry is.) It’s a beautiful practice that cultivates self-compassion is a surprisingly generous way-through directing your compassion outward.
Might you be game to uproot a couple of those old, old pains and dissolve them? This next activity will guide you through how to do that. The first time you use this tool, you may want to choose a situation that has a weak hold on you, rather than something blindingly evocative. Then, once you have a feel for how to use the tool, try to tackle a deeper conflict.
Opportunities for Resolution
Are there any pains and losses that you’re up for looking at even more deeply and potentially resolving? Or ones that you’re at least willing to view from another angle? (That’s a start!)
One method for resolution is doing what I call Seeing-from-3. It’s a creative-thinking and writing exercise in which you compose three different accounts of a situation. The first account is from your perspective (who you were at the time). The second account is from the other person’s perspective (as they were in that time and place). The third is the account from a neutral, outsider’s point of view.
Note: This isn’t for use with pains or losses stem from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; those are best discussed with a therapist.
Taking the example of my best friend who stopped writing letters to me, it goes like this:
My perspective -
I was hurt when Mona stopped writing to me because I felt rejected and confused. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was that I wrote in my last letter that caused her never to write back, but I remember feeling like she was bragging about her life and I’d addressed that in my letter. I was worried that I came off as scolding her. Actually, what I most worried about was that she rejected me for my insecurity and for getting emotional with her. I never, ever knew. Maybe she was really mad, really offended. I’ll never know because she never said anything one way or the other. I just wished she’d forget it and write to me.
My friend’s perspective -
Amy sent me a letter preaching to me about “sharing” rather than “comparing” our lives, and it was confusing and annoying. Could I say it was even downright bitchy? Why couldn’t she be excited for me and understand that I would never brag to her? After all, we had been best friends. And after all, she was the one who left. Maybe life in California was changing her. I’ll see if she writes again to apologize, and then we’ll take it from there.
An outsider’s perspective -
(This of this as writing a story in which you and the other person are characters and you don’t know what’s going on in either of their minds–keep it stripped down to bare actions and facts.) Amy and Mona lived in Minnesota and were best friends in fifth and sixth grade, and then in the middle of sixth grade, Amy’s family moved to California. Mona made new friends after Amy left. And Amy made new friends in her new school, too. They wrote letters to each other over the months, and at one point the letters stopped. Amy had written the last letter, which went unanswered.
Everyone is “Right”
What I love most about this exercise is that it’s not at all about who is in the right vs. who is in the wrong. That’s not a part of it. The sole goal is to represent the various perspectives. There’s freedom in releasing ourselves from that common trap. Our culture, as well as our families, tend to want to put people and actions into neat “Bad” and “Good” canisters on the wall, but are people and our actions really that simple and one-dimensional? Nah.
For me, stepping outside of right and wrong is key. Right and wrong is just another version of the black and white type of rigid and conditional thinking that I’d rather put way, way behind me. Coming to a place of seeing the various perspectives that co-exist is a step beyond the playground, a step toward grace and part of maturity.
The Seeing from 3 exercise is a challenge, but eye-opening, too. There is something about writing about the issue from the other person’s point of view that helps to get as close as possible to walking in their shoes. This process takes a bit of the sting out of the emotional intensity. Once you actually write down the words that express how the other person may have seen it, it’s impossible not to feel compassion for him or her.
Choose a pain or loss from your Big List of Pains & Losses. Write about the situation from each of the three perspectives, remembering that different perspectives can co-exist and there’s no wrong/right or bad/good. You may not know what the other person truly thought, but you can use what you know to make your best guess; the important thing is to consider the situation while standing in their shoes.
My Perspective -
Their Perspective -
Outsider’s Perspective -
It’s worth reading over what you wrote and regarding how your feelings are presently, having considered the place the other person was coming from, where you were at emotionally, and also what the outsider view has to offer in your understanding and compassion for the situation.
After doing this exercise myself, I had this realization: I took the road of inaction. I’d waited and waited, wanting to hear again from my friend. I expected her to make the next move, and it never, ever occurred to me to do so myself. Yet I had every reason to make the next move–to write to her, to apologize, or check in about the miscommunication with her. Instead, I just waited and grew more resentful that she wasn’t writing to me. Not only that, but I carried around the pain and loss with me for years!
Questions to Ask Yourself
* What might you get from analyzing your actions, inactions, and assumptions about the situation you described?
* How do you see things differently, or slightly differently?
* What’s in the way of you’re letting this go?
* What do you still want from the situation?
(Another sneak peek coming soon!)
Be kind to yourself,