Compassion Meditationby: Gerald Lee Jordan
date: 12 May 2020 (NZT)
edit: 13 May 2020 (NZT)
Focusing on Compassion
When I began meditating in 2003 while waiting for my son to enter the world, I read everything I could find online and offline on meditation. There was not much I could find online. Most centred around texts translated from other languages to English, which seemed to have lost their context in translation. I also found a few books - I was in Christchurch and Book Depository was not yet a thing. Most books were by the Dalai Lama and were introductions to Buddhism. It took a lot of patience to explore meditation on my own in this scenario. I stuck with it, though, and by 2005 I was finding more texts (we had moved to Australia) and I was in a local meditation group.
During my initial study, I noted that there were multiple types of meditation. I won't go through all of them here, but insight (vipassanā) meditation and compassion meditation stood out. Insight meditation was what I had assumed meditation to be and I quickly took to this. The benefits began to come and I was convinced of the value of vipassanā meditation. What about this compassion meditation, though?
My initial reaction was not positive. How can you teach compassion? Don't we just have this or not? Isn't it "artificial" to teach compassion this way? I had many doubts and chose not to focus on compassion meditation, sadly.
In early 2019, I was doing further research into Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. I had bought yet another book online and was eagerly making my way through the first pages. Compassion-Focused Therapy was mentioned. What was this? I put aside that book (I have yet to pick it up again - I have hundreds of books) and I ordered two books on Compassion-Focused Therapy. I decided to have an open mind about this topic. In addition to the books, I found the ABC Australia podcast linked to below in a tweet of mine from that time.
We all have the potential to be compassionate. Paul Gilbert (see podcast above or google his name and Compassion-Focused Therapy) believes that this is part of how our brains are wired. When I look at how other mammals are able to care for their young tenderly, I tend to agree with Paul. Compassion and kindness help us survive. None of us would exist without it. Because it is something we cannot see and quantify, we tend to want to dismiss it. Fortunately, more modern approaches to psychotherapy, including Compassion-Focused Therapy and the emerging fields of Positive Psychology focus on these parts of ourselves which, while hard to quantify, make our lives worth living.
Changing Ourselves Through Our Thoughts
When we change our thoughts, we not only improve our relationships with others, we can also improve our own bodies. Positive, nurturing thoughts - not just for others, but also for ourselves - change our heart rate, improve digestion, lower stress chemicals in our bodies, in effect allowing us to live happier and longer lives.
I am researching Compassion-Focused Therapy and one of the major premises is that our thoughts change our bodies (with compassionate thoughts "rewiring" our minds over time). Seeing such an obvious effect of dreams drives home that concept. #therapy #cft #counselling #counseling https://t.co/PMPujtzjFB— Lee (@geraldleejordan) September 28, 2019
Beginning Compassion Meditation
There are many ways to begin compassion meditation. You can buy one of Paul Gilbert's books which will take you through some beginning steps. These are not heavy on the meditative side, but might increase your interest in the topic and overall happiness. Another approach is to try compassion meditation for yourself. I have included a very brief example audio link below.
Practicing Outside of Meditation
Efforts to practice compassion throughout your life will help and will also come from your meditation on compassion. These will build upon each other. One thing not to forget is that compassion is not just for others, it is also for yourself! I spend some minutes before drifting off to sleep feeling compassion for others and myself. It is an incredibly powerful time where I am receptive to these thoughts. It also brings more restful sleep. I hope you are able to find compassion growing in yourself. It is one of our greatest gifts and powers.
May you find peace.
Gerald Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns