Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.
My first experience of seeing more of people than usually meets the eye was in medical school. After saying hello, the first thing we said to patients was "Would you kindly disrobe?" They then removed all raiment denoting class, profession or authority to don a flimsy backless gown, leaving a half-naked person ready to share the vulnerability he had been hiding up until this meeting.
Surgery was an even more intimate reminder of humanity. For example, once you open the abdominal cavity, all people look remarkably alike. There's the liver, the spleen, kidneys, stomach, and intestines, with nowhere to hide. Feeling the heft of someone's live, pulsating organs can be a profound exercise in compassion: this could be me, you think, knowing that your insides kind of look like this, too.
However, it's not always practical to increase compassion by reaching inside someone's belly for a kidney grab. Perhaps there's an easier way that would work at, say, a dinner party. And although Nick Veasey's impressive X-ray apparatus can see straight to the core of people (not to mention cars, tractors and planes), perhaps there is a more portable method.
With these practices, over time you may be able to see what even giant X-ray machines can't access: the true self inhabiting another body, which could just as easily be your own. -- Dr. Ali Binazir
To that end, I propose the following methods which use something weightless (and underutilized!) which you carry around all the time: your imagination. These mental tricks have been working for me for some time, and perhaps they will work for you, too.
1) Do the time warp. Two big blocks to feeling real compassion for others is imagining that they're different from us, and they have power to harm us. A solution to both is to re-imagine folks as cute little 5-year old kids. We've all been kids, and what's there not to love about this bundle of energy, curiosity and cluelessness? And by now you're strong enough to take on any 5-year old, which should take care of the intimidation factor, too.
You can also time-warp this person to age 90 - a kindly grandpa or grandma who can be easy to love (and outrun). Hey, someday that's going to be your fate, too, so this should improve fellow-feeling.
Whether you perceive someone as rich, poor, smart, dumb, pretty, ugly or somehow different from you and somehow less deserving of your compassion, time warping them to childhood or old age should make it much easier to make the connection.
2) Activate galaxy consciousness. Recently, I was walking back to my car in Marin County late at night, far from city lights. I looked up to the sky and saw more stars than I had seen in years: billions of pinpoint suns arrayed in lakes, rivers and oceans of unimaginable vastness. It boggled the mind to imagine that some of those lights dots were entire galaxies, with about 100 billion stars in each.
You know what else has a mind-boggling number of tiny things? Your body. It's made of about 70 trillion cells, which is about 700 times more than the stars in a galaxy. And the miracle is that they all work together - so well that they got you through the night with you asleep the whole time and continue to breathe and beat your heart for you without any conscious effort on your part even as you read these words. 70 trillion things all working in unison to get stuff done is particularly impressive compared to something like, say, 535, the number of members of the US Congress who can't get anything done.
So when you see another person, instead of seeing them as big, small, stylish, frumpy, fat or skinny, think of her as something as majestic and miraculous as a galaxy, since that's who she really is. Of course, you are that galaxy, too, so now you can be friends.
3) Get metta. One of the Buddhist practices that I've found most useful is a form of meditation called metta, variously translated as loving-kindness or compassion. Basically, you visualize the person in front of you, send love in their general direction and say silently, "May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe." That's it. Studies show that if you do this kind of thing regularly, your brain remodels itself to make you a calmer, kinder, smarter just plain better version of you. And you'll get on better with folks.
To do advanced metta, pick five specific people and direct your compassion at them. In my sequence, the first person is one who's easy to love (e.g. my adorable niece); the second is more challenging (e.g. a family member); the third is a downright difficult person (coworker perhaps); the fourth is someone you actively dislike (Putin, I'm looking at you); and the fifth is the toughest one of all: yourself.
In the end, I remind myself of the lines of Antoine de St-Éxupery from The Little Prince: "One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye." With these practices, over time you may be able to see what even giant X-ray machines can't access: the true self inhabiting another body, which could just as easily be your own.
For more by Dr. Ali Binazir, click here.
For love advice for smart, strong women, get The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman's Guide to Being Absolutely Irresistible, the highest-rated dating book on Amazon for 157 weeks. Now available as book, audiobook, and Kindle ebook™.
For more good stuff for both men and women, visit the Tao of Dating blog or write to me directly
Ideas are not set in stone. When exposed to thoughtful people, they morph and adapt into their most potent form. TEDWeekends will highlight some of today's most intriguing ideas and allow them to develop in real time through your voice! Tweet #TEDWeekends to share your perspective or email tedweekends@hufﬁngtonpost.com to learn about future weekend's ideas to contribute as a writer.