As the holiday season approaches, reminders of the “Christmas Spirit” are everywhere — on television, the radio, in stores. I am not one to overly lament the “commercialization” of the holidays, but I do think there is an important distinction to be made between the retailers idea of “spirit” and how I view it in my daily life and interactions. Our materialistic culture uses the idea of the “Holiday Spirit” to encourage the purchasing of gifts, sure, but also sharing and togetherness, which are commendable and important not only during the holidays, but year-round. I try to see the good in this approach.

When I think of “Spirit,” I think less about songs and decorations and more about the soul — our individual humanity, the intangible part of ourselves that makes us unique and precious beyond value. Our spirit is not a commodity. In fact, it is the opposite. It is something we share without cost, with generosity and authenticity. While this time of year often brings “spirit” to mind, I want to talk about year-round spirit as a way of being in the world that opens us to true communication with others.

Seeing Spirit

I wrote in this blog a while back about the Kansas City Police Department and the success they’ve had using the Arbinger Institute as part of their leadership training. In that story, I quoted KCPD officer “ChatoVillalobos, who said:

“When you work with people, and see people as people, [you] get to do what [you’re] doing better.”

I return to this quote often as I think about my interactions with the world and community around me. What a wonderfully simple distillation of a major impediment to progress and happiness! In this case, instead of seeing people as problems, KCPD officers saw them as people and created a solution that is vibrant, healthy, and sustainable.

We often don’t see other people as people, but as objects or means to an end. When we reduce others in this way, when we ignore their humanity, we are not seeing their spirit. The word spirit comes from Latin meaning “to breathe” (a common root with inspiration!), and in that origin suggests a shared humanity — we all need to breathe. In that intake and release of breathe, we all share the air around us.

Seeing beyond another person’s function — accountant, lawyer, checkout clerk, brother, wife — beyond what they can do for us and into who they are, allows us to meet them on an equal level and have an authentic experience with them. In these experiences, we are more likely to grow together, contribute and achieve, than when we see another person as a means to an end. Seeing spirit in this way elevates our interactions and creates success and happiness for everyone.

Connecting with Compassion

When we see someone as an object or obstacle, we remove their experience from the equation, but compassion takes into account their feelings and desires as well as our own. When we acknowledge another person’s humanity and spirit, we are engaging with compassion. It takes a little extra effort, and we give more of ourselves. But when consistently applied, the rewards (both in terms of success and happiness) are immense.

Cultivating our ability to react with compassion is a process. So much of our world today encourages us to tune out, to self-preserve, and to look out for our own success. Expanding our behavior beyond that takes practice and conscious application.

The Compassion Reflex

One way of developing a “compassion reflex” is to practice Loving Kindness Meditation. I’ve discussed meditation  before in my blog. I find it so valuable not just as a tool for stress-relief but as a way to retrain our minds to be healthier, more knowledgeable, more at peace, and more compassionate. Loving Kindness Meditation is simply “the practice of wishing oneself and others to be happy, content and at ease.” Studies have shown a positive correlation between this type of meditation and feelings of peace, diminished stress responses, and a greater feeling of connection with community.

I’ll soon be heading to the Institute of HeartMath for further training to help me better understand my hearts connection to spirit and the correlation between the two. They have twenty-five years of research that helps scientifically show the energetic imprint of heart/mind connectedness, which I believe helps us better recognize the spirit within. I’ll be writing more on this soon!

I hope the “Holiday Spirit” brings you joy and helps you connect with your family and friends in a meaningful way. Let’s keep the spirit alive year round by cultivating compassion in our thought and actions.

How do you see spirit in your daily life? Tweet @ace_wagner to share your thoughts and experiences!