Picture with me something you don't appreciate. Something that aggravates or aggrieves you. Pick something of an intensity that challenges you to the perfect degree for right now.
It could be the face of something who has hurt you.
It could be the wild tantrum of a child you give everything to love.
The driver in front of you.
The person across the courtroom from you.
Your most intimate. Spouse, best friend, teacher. Someone who wronged you.
Now holding the image or sensation of that thing within, acknowledge. Notice your sensations and emotions. Let them bubble, not boil. Be present, but resist becoming eclipsed. Feel that.
And finally for now, seek. Cast the divining rod that is your heart out like a seagull looking for land in an ocean and find a contrasting, even ridiculous noticing.
Goodness, aren't the red red cheeks of the screaming baby beautiful like a rose?
Is the tyrannic father standing on top of the ottoman, yelling, actually the tiniest bit funny?
Your friend, who did that thing, are they wearing their hair cutely today?
The reckless driver ahead, good job with the bumper stickers. Strange about the top being down in the rain, though.
Empathy needs an opening, and little contrasting noticings, even silly-seeming ones, can be that opening. They say that couples argue well when they allow themselves to get distracted, relocating the common ground of existence between them. (Uhh, I know we're fighting like Hades right now but did you see the neighbour sunbathing naked this morning?)
Then when a small space for empathy - that crack for the light of empathy - has been made, don't try to be Mother Theresa (who was apparently notoriously cranky) or Father Gandhi, just yet. Only quest for the tiniest drop of real empathy. The assignment is to allow our natural yearning (yearning that signifies our fundamental desire to love and be loved) to locate one unit of empathy. A molecule, just. A pixel-worth. A dropperful.
Questions to help find the dropperful:
What could be going on for this person right now?
If this situation could be explained, what could possibly explain it?
If I could get that the world makes perfect sense to this other person, what would I understand?
What other things can you add, what helps you, when seeking for the seeds of empathy on a concrete floor? What keeps you stuck?