How you can Stroll in Somebody Else’s Sneakers

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Contemplative psychologist Karen Kissel Wegela teaches a practice that helps us see difficult people – and ourselves – more clearly.

Empty shoes

Photo by Peter Hershey.

We have all had the experience of dealing with people we find difficult, and none of us want to be difficult people ourselves. “Through the Empty Mirror” is a contemplation that can help us show compassion for those we are having trouble with. It can also soften us so that we are less difficult for others.

Many traditions encourage us to walk in someone else’s shoes or to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. The “Empty Mirror” gives us a chance to practice this. In a dramatic or subtle way, contemplation can touch and open your heart to where it has become solid or frozen. Sometimes it’s life changing for people, like a man who cut off communication with his twin brother. After considering this, he contacted his brother and the two reconnected after more than a decade.

Start by finding a quiet place and sitting down. It is helpful to follow your breath for a few minutes to calm the mind a little.

Become the difficult person. Take the time to get used to this new body.

Then think about the person who is difficult for you. Remember what you know about this person: how they look, how they spend their time, what is important to them, what is difficult about them for you. Then imagine that they are sitting across from you at eye level. Place them any distance that feels right. Don’t worry about getting a clear picture. It is enough just to have a feeling that they are there.

Notice what arises within you when you face the difficult person. What feelings, emotions and thoughts come up? Allow whatever is there. Take some time with it.

Next, switch places with them in your imagination; become the difficult person. Take the time to get used to this new body. What is it like to be that person? What do you perceive in your body? In your emotions? In your thoughts? Take your time again.

Now when you look at the person sitting across from you (that is, the original self), you see how you feel about that person. What is your history? Be aware of all the sensations, emotions, and thoughts that arise. Now think specifically about what you, now the difficult person, want from your original self.

If it is okay and not harmful to you, imagine that as a difficult person, you are getting what you want. Notice how it feels to receive it. This viewing step is optional.

Now switch places again and return to your original self. Look or feel the person facing you again. What is emerging for you now as you imagine it? If you gave them what they wanted, how would it feel for you now?

When you feel ready, let go of all contemplation and rest on your breath for a few more minutes.

After the contemplation, just be aware of what you are experiencing, especially when you are thinking about the other person. Notice what, if anything, has shifted. Many people find that what the person wanted was something they could easily offer. Others find it out of the question.

This contemplation can help us let go of our fixed ideas about the other person. It can allow us to see them more rounded and let go of any labels or stereotypes we hold about them. This can allow us to be more open and less difficult.

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