“Compassion meditation can be beneficial in promoting more harmonious relationships of all kinds. The world certainly could use a little more kindness and compassion.”
Dr. Richard Davidson
Becoming professionally certified in teaching Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction has been a long and wonderful road requiring hard work and commitment. It has also been a journey offering blessings, opportunity and learning. A gift of priceless value has been meeting Rich Davidson and becoming informed on how the brain works.
The subject is compassion – to be more specific: being compassionate. The question is: are we able to train ourselves, through the practice of meditation, to become more compassionate? Dr. Richard Davidson, professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) and world renowned expert on the effects of meditation on the brain, says “Yes!”
Through a capacity of the brain called plasticity (or neuro-plasticity), we are able to literally “train the brain” to enhance personal qualities of kindness and caring. We not only can learn to develop skills promoting happiness and compassion, we can also, over time, fully embody these traits.
Cultivating compassion and kindness through meditation affects certain regions of the brain, shaping a person’s behavior to be more empathetic, particularly toward other people. Published March 26, 2009, in the Public Library of Science One, a study directed by Dr. Davidson shows, by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), positive emotions such as kindness and compassion can be learned in the same way a person learns to play a musical instrument or be skilled at a sport. The brain scan showed brain circuitry used to detect emotion and feelings changed dramatically in people who meditate, making it easier and natural to act with kindness.
Compassion meditation differs from other forms of meditation it its focus. While mindfulness meditation invites awareness to be on the breath and suggests labeling thoughts as thinking, compassion meditation places the focus first on one’s self and then on another person, a cause or an animal. (Please see “5 Simple Steps to Compassion Meditation” at the end of this article).
Becoming more compassionate is the first step in self acceptance, self care and relating to your life with kindness and understanding. Learning to embrace yourself as you are, turning away from comparing or competing brings a certain peace of its own. Enriching this personal acceptance with compassion meditation, can cultivate a new way of being in your life, a kinder and more forgiving way of relating to self and others and to life’s many changes and demands.
Compassion meditation and its effects may also be relevant to youngsters and their ability to think before they act. Being a compassionate parent and raising a compassionate child is the foundation for raising a compassionate adolescent. Bullying, aggression and violence can be prevented. And the case is strong for meditation being a cost effective and relatively simple way to prevent unwanted behaviors in vulnerable adolescents and to instill, by experience, the values of caring about oneself and others.
Making heart-centered, behavioral choices can happen with ease, holding the potential for raising mature and responsible young adults. It is never too late, rather, it’s never too early to begin a simple compassion meditation practice. If you are a new parent, sitting quietly in the presence of your newborn child will welcome this tiny spirit into the embrace of stillness, kindness and love.
Compassion meditation is a simple act, appropriate at any age, occupation or lifestyle. Why not give it a try? And please stay tuned to find out how physicians are using compassion in their practice and the changes they experience in themselves and in their patients. A simple choice with profound, healing effects ~ available to all with a price that fits our times: what are we waiting for?
5 Simple Steps to Compassion Meditation
- Sit in a dignified posture, spine is straight, hands rest on the things; arms, shoulders, jaw and neck are at ease; eyes are closed or gaze is downward.
- Gently bring focus to the heart region of the body, breathing in and out from this area; notice any sensations you may feel in this region of the body.
- Begin by allowing loving, accepting and kind feelings toward yourself, letting go of any judgmental thoughts that may arise.
- As you breathe in and out, silently repeat the words: “May I be free of distress and suffering”.
- Continuing to breathe in and our, repeat the words, substituting “I” with an individual’s name, an animal or situation you wish to feel