I was sitting in a cab the other day en route between meetings – maybe you know the feeling of cross town gridlock, and not a darn thing you can do about it. In the midst of heart palpitations over the conversations that would be delayed due to the traffic and feeling the techno-junkie urge to grab my phone out of my bag to attend to the emails I knew were awaiting response, some voice inside of me insistently but gently said to stop and look around.
All around was a gray day filled with tides of human movement. Around me were sidewalks crowded by the rhythms of people advancing against the wind, against the march of time, and against their own challenges. Out of the many beings moving along, in and out of stores and along the concrete, for no reason in particular I focused upon a 50-something man, swaddled in coat and scarf against the cold. He massaged his furrowed brow as he waited for the crossing signal, and I remembered a practice I learned long ago called Just Like Me. In a moment that could have been pixel filled and “productive” in the energetic bubble of the taxicab, all became still and precious as my heart opened.
Just Like Me is a compassion practice that literally allows you to acknowledge the common beauty and suffering we all share as human beings. It works like this: as you observe someone you remind yourself of the following…
Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.
Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.
Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.
Just like me, this person is seeking to fulfill his/her needs.
Just like me, this person is learning about life.
I have shared this practice with corporate CEOs and among 9/11 survivors, the NYPD and youth at risk. I have practiced it myself observing strangers in parks, at the bank and even with folks I share a lifetime of history with at family gatherings. The best thing about it: you can do it in seconds. You can do it whether or not you made it to the gym, regardless of if you have learned to meditate yet, or you have just eaten too much at the last holiday party. You can do it and keep it absolutely 100% to yourself.
A few things: simply deciding to do the practice already shifts your inner state beautifully. When you soften your eyes and really breathe into each statement you make mentally, you not only remember their humanity but allow graceful recognition of your own. Also, once you really get the feeling for the practice, the particulars of the actual statements aren’t as important as the cultivation of a sense of compassion towards whatever you see.
Roll through the final week of the year with a touch more grace. Just Like Me is a great way to use the tendency towards franticness to remind you to become present to the real reasons for the holiday season. Whatever HOLIday you celebrate throughout the year, the holiness of our shared experience is what we celebrate – our suffering and triumphs, our ability to persevere and find delight. I bow in honor of yours.