Rehumanizing the "other"

Morning: SoMa, San Francisco

I barely noticed him in my periphery standing at an ATM machine. It was nearing 7am and in my sleepiness I assumed he was getting finances in order before showing up to work a bit earlier than his tech-employed coworkers. I hastened my steps to appease my addiction to caffeine, which I fix daily at a Philz Coffee near Giants stadium.

The streets were surprisingly quiet this morning. On most days there are construction crews already jackhammering slabs of street into rubble and tractors beeping in perpetual reverse. But this morning was different, and I was enjoying the city in an uncharacteristically quiet state when the man from the ATM shouted from just a few feet behind me.

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Be Kind to Yourself | Week Three at Stanford's CCARE

Imagine going into your workplace and calling one of your coworkers over for a chat.

You begin to tell them, in a flustered and frantic way, that they have a lot to do today, more than they’ll be able to accomplish even if they were at their most focused and efficient best. You tell them that they probably shouldn’t have managed their time so poorly the day before. And that they should feel ashamed of how they manage their time in general. You tell them that they aren’t carrying their weight, or doing things as well as they could be done. You tell them that, though they may be doing all they can, it’s never enough.

Without waiting for a reply, you end this conversation by giving them a look of disappointment and shooing them off to go redeem themselves by working harder and not messing up.

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Loving Kindness Meditation | Week Two at Stanford’s CCARE

I turned left onto a main road and merged into the flow of traffic. Quickly, I realized that I would need to be making a right turn in the not-so-distant future. I signaled to change lanes and, instead of slowing to let me merge, or speeding forward to make space, the man beside me honked his horn and flipped me off. I reflexively called him an asshole.

This all happened during the commute to my second week of Compassion Cultivation Training at Stanford, which was focused on loving kindness meditation. It turns out that I, and other drivers, would greatly benefit from engaging in this meditative practice more often.

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Cultivating Compassion | Week One at Stanford's CCARE

Before leaving bed this morning, I set a timer for 15 minutes and began to listen to myself breathe. As the air came in through my nostrils, I noticed where the oxygen traveled throughout my body, I could feel my stomach expand and the muscles along my neck and back loosen. As the air left my nostrils, I could feel a tingly sensation spread over my scalp. When thoughts arrived, such as those that visit most every morning when my mind becomes conscious, I mostly ignored them and returned to the whereabouts of my breath, as if it was the most worthy recipient of my attention.

This little practice, I’ve been told, is meditation.

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