Learning to love and appreciate others is a good way of knowing how to love and appreciate ourselves. Through understanding others and appreciating them as they are, we are also able to know ourselves better and get to love and accept who we also are.
And while we are not born knowing how to do this, life, through the practice of meditation, has offered everyone an opportunity to increase in compassion, in order to improve our overall well-being.
Compassion meditation brings inner peace and self-love which also helps us to have true relations with others as we grow in emotional intelligence.
Moreover, the practice helps to build the virtues of love, compassion and kindness and extend them to others, which make our lives easier and happier.
What is Compassion Meditation?
Compassion meditation, which is also referred to as Karuna meditation, is a practice that aims at helping us cultivate deep thoughts of compassion and train our minds towards living with compassion for others as well as ourselves.
This exercise allows us to keep at bay self-absorption, selfishness and isolation within ourselves which is brought by the sufferings we have gone through in the past, and get to become more appreciative of others a midst the suffering.
Suffering is experienced by all people and living beings.
And with the understanding that these sufferings we have had through our lives have not only been experienced by us but also by other people, we open our hearts more and become concerned and caring towards them.
Compassion is defined as the sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others.
Through creating connections with our sufferings together with those of other people, we are able to stir up compassion that exists permanently within us and spill it over to others.
Through this practice, we become aware of the pain, unhappiness, discomfort and distress, and we put our focus on the desire to alleviate the suffering with love and great care.
There is a Buddhist quote that says, “Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor and alike; each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, other too little.”
How Compassion Meditation Works
Compassion meditation is a practice that originates from Buddhist traditions but can be done by everyone despite their religious and spiritual beliefs.
It is designed as a way to work on ending the suffering we have by connecting with it at a deep level.
With the exercise, you receive a number of deeply profound phrases based on compassion that are meant to help you shift your focus from being judgmental to being a genuinely concerned and caring person.
They help you overcome the negative thoughts and energy and become a more positive, loving and truly compassionate person.
These phrases are like wishes you send out to other people, living beings such as your pets hoping the best for them. It also involves sending good wishes to yourself too.
In your mind, you get to visualize the person or being you are wishing well and feel like you are directly saying those wishes to them.
As you do this meditation, your energy and focus is directed to the phrases and their meaning as you say them, meaning every word from your heart.
Ideally, this kind of meditation should be used as baby steps to cultivating the virtue of compassion within yourself. As you meditate more and more, your mind and thoughts are strengthened in compassion which you should then apply in your daily life.
Compassion is one of the 4 sublime states that the Buddha always encouraged people to take up as their permanent habits as they go a long way in helping to create good connections with themselves, other people, the world and all there is in it.
The 4 sublime states are:
1. Compassion (karuna)
2. Loving kindness (metta)
3. Appreciative joy (mudita)
4. Equanimity (upekkha)
How Compassion Meditation is Different From Loving Kindness Meditation
Compassion meditation and loving kindness (which is also referred to as metta meditation) are often used together and many people tend to think they mean the same thing, which they don’t.
There is a slight difference between the two forms of meditation.
The goal of loving kindness meditation is to give out full comprehensive love that is unlimited. With this meditation, we send out wishes of love and kindness to all people, including those we don’t admire that much as well as those who cause suffering in our lives.
In loving kindness meditation, we keep our attention on our breath and the phrases of love and kindness which we are reciting.
Compassion meditation also has the element of love but there is an extra aspect of having the awareness of the pain and suffering not to mention the wish to overcome that suffering in love.
Compassion meditation is categorized as “Tonglen” which is an ancient Buddhist practice that is based on giving and taking.
Tonglen uses visualization to build compassion for all beings that are capable of feeling and perceiving which results to a healing experience of the mind of the person working with it.
It helps us get rid of the old habits of selfishness and ego centrism.
In this practice, we essentially visualize ourselves taking in the suffering of other people as we breathe in giving out relief and compassion as we breathe out.
Many people fear that this practice could be allowing them to take in the bad habits and energies from others but it is quite the contrary.
It is only a way of visualizing and becoming aware of the suffering and how it changes to become compassion.
Benefits of Compassion Meditation
Here is a list of benefits associated with practicing compassion meditation:
1. Strengthens relationships with others – By understanding the universality of suffering through compassion meditation, and by wishing other people well, we are not only able to relate to their pain but also share in the overcoming of it, which strengthens our bond with them.
2. Reduces stress and depression – Compassion meditation, in the long run, seeks to build the attitude of love, kindness and acceptance of the suffering of the meditator together with others. Also, by trying to understand the suffering of others, our levels of stress and depression caused by our own suffering are reduced since we get to understand well that we are not the only ones who are suffering.
3. Builds compassion – Compassion meditation helps to establish the value of compassion and kindness in our lives, which makes us more compassionate. Studies have also revealed that this practice has an effect in the areas of the brain that are responsible for empathy and compassion (1).
4. Reduces the chattering and wandering of the mind – Unlike other forms of meditation like Vipassana meditation and mindfulness meditation that require you to observe your thoughts and feelings without any opinions and judgments, compassion meditation allows you to direct your thoughts and feelings of love and compassion towards yourself and others, which is much easier, more involving and interesting than simply observing them.
5. Encourages better control of emotions – By understanding what others go through based on what you yourself see and experience, you are able to see how suffering weighs down other people and cause them to react in various negative ways towards you. And with this knowledge and understanding, you are able to react in a much better way.
6. Changes the structure of the brain – Studies show that frequent meditation on compassion increases the activity in some areas of the brain such as the insula and the temporal parietal juncture which are essential in detecting emotions, mapping body responses to emotions and in processing empathy, most especially in perceiving emotional and mental state of others (2).
7. Controls the symptoms of some major health disorders – Studies on veterans with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) showed that there are reduced symptoms of PSTD in the participants after undergoing cognitive based compassion training (3).
How to do Compassion Meditation
Here are the steps to follow to practice compassion meditation for optimal results:
Step 1: Find a place that is quiet and free of distractions
Step 2: Sit fairly comfortably and keep your spine erect
Step 3: Close your eyes or keep them open but maintain a low gaze
Step 4: Take note of your breathing. Don’t feel moved to change the way you are breathing. Simply observe the way air is getting in and going out of your body. Be aware of your breathing pattern in the present moment.
Step 5: Visualize someone, a pet or anything you know you deeply care about. Try to feel the care within you and hold on to it for a moment as you breathe in and out.
Step 6: Try to imagine the challenges and difficulties they are experiencing. Let your sympathy flow out to them.
Step 7: In case you find your attention is drifting away to other things, observe it and gently redirect it to the practice. But don’t shut the distraction out as it is an important aspect of the exercise. The mind tends to lose attention often and this is natural. And by accepting that fact and bringing your attention back to the exercise, it helps to strengthen you on that.
Step 8: As you hold the person, pet or thing you care about in your mind, say these phrases in your mind as if you are telling them:
* May your challenges come to an end
* May you get joy and happiness
* May you know and find perfect peace
* May you get everything you need
Step 9: You can always change the phrases to suit the situation or the object you are reaching out to in terms of compassion.
Step 10: If you can, spread your compassion to your family, your relatives, your community, any other people you know are suffering and maybe to those who are bringing the suffering on others. Although, you are not obliged to be compassionate about those who cause the suffering, but you can do it if you can.
Step 11: Remember that compassion should flow naturally and it should be genuine, which means, if you cannot pass true compassion to any of the mentioned people or groups, you should not do it at all. Don’t feel pushed to do it. When you are able to do it in the future, you will do it that time.
Step 12: Remember yourself too and be compassionate to yourself and your current circumstances.
Step 13: As you come to the end of your session, still seated in the same position, be aware of yourself, without focusing on your breath and without saying anything.
Step 14: Slowly open your eyes and your are done with the session!
Please note that this walk through is a standard version of this meditation practice that everyone can do. There are different ways to approach the practice based on many factors,
You may also want to visit any Buddhist center or compassion based training center near you for proper guidance and training to got your specific needs and to have all the questions you have about compassion meditation answered by a qualified professional.
You can also work with compassion meditation resources such as compassion meditation scripts, apps, websites, podcasts, videos and audios from credible sources.
But remember to be careful with the resources that you settle for and make sure that they offer everything you need for the practice.
Ultimately, compassion meditation is not about trying to get solutions for the pain experienced in the world. It is all about facing the pain with a heart that has compassion and using that pain to understand what other people are going through.
It helps you understand that other people desire peace and happiness just as much as you do.
People want to end suffering in their lives, and practices that are based on compassion help you see that at a profound level. They also help you to learn to love, forgive and accept others the way they are.
And as you grow in this practice, you find that natural desire to do acts of compassion. You naturally find yourself doing things for people who are in real need that not only makes them happy but also brightens your heart.