This is a guest post, written by Sara Schairer, founder of Compassion It, a nonprofit and global social movement that inspires compassionate actions and attitudes. Take it away, Sara …
Research indicates that compassion makes us happier, healthier, and even more attractive to others. So how can we begin to incorporate more compassion into our everyday lives?
It’s actually simple; there are countless ways to add compassion into your every day. You can be mindful of your surroundings. You can put your phone down and pay attention to what you see, hear, and feel. You can listen to others. You can smile at someone in passing.
Take this example … Whether we travel for work or pleasure, most of us are guilty of this story, or some variation: as you wait at your gate to depart, you’re sitting, standing, and even walking with your head buried in your phone. A middle-aged woman is quietly crying and needs a tissue. A mother is struggling to collect her bags as she rounds up two small children. A man who doesn’t speak English is confused because of gate changes. You could have helped, but you didn’t realize someone needed you.
You missed an opportunity to offer compassion—not because you didn’t want to offer help—but because you weren’t present.
Why Compassion Relies on Mindfulness
Compassion is our response to suffering. When you notice someone or yourself suffering, and you do something about it, you are offering compassion. The thing is, you are only able to notice the suffering within and around you if you are mindful of what’s happening within and around you.
This is why compassion cultivation techniques often begin with a foundation of mindfulness. You need awareness in order to offer compassion.
Meditation is one way to cultivate mindfulness and awareness. By adding compassionate visualizations and wishes to your meditation practice, you are able to incline your mind toward compassion.
Simple Practice: Compassion Cultivation
Here’s an example of a simple compassion meditation you can try. This practice can be done in as little as 10 minutes, or you can take as long as you want and experience the power of compassion more deeply.
- Find an upright position that allows you to be relaxed and alert. Close your eyes or cast your gaze down, and take three full, deep breaths.
- Begin to notice your breath. Spend the next five minutes paying attention to your belly or chest as it rises and falls with the breath. When your mind wanders (and it will!), gently bring it back to your breath.
- Picture a loved one standing before you, and notice how you feel when you see this person. Think of a time when he or she was suffering in some way, and pay attention to any instinct to offer help. Send compassionate wishes to your loved one by saying a few times silently, “May you be happy. May you be free from suffering.” Pay attention to any warmth in the area around your heart that may arise during this visualization.
- Now it’s time to aim those compassionate feelings toward yourself. Think of something that is creating some sort of stress in your life, and notice any areas in your body that may feel tension. Send warmth from your heart to your tense areas, and say to yourself with kindness, “May I be happy. May I be free from suffering.” You may want to place one hand over your heart to physically offer yourself comfort, and repeat twice more, “May I be happy. May I be free from suffering.”
- Next, picture members of your community in front of you—neighbors, friends, or family. Begin to send warmth and light from your heart to those people, and offer them the wishes, “May you be happy. May you be free from suffering.”
- Extend those same wishes out to your city, state, nation, continent, and the entire planet. Repeating, “May you all be happy. May you all be free from suffering.”
- Close by bringing your attention back to your breath for a few minutes, and dedicate your meditation to the well-being of all beings, everywhere.
Notice any feelings of warmth or love that you may experience after the meditation.
If you enjoyed learning about the intersection of compassion and mindfulness in this post, join COMPASSION IT’s 30-Day Compassion Challenge. For the month of October, thousands of people from around the world are committing to put compassion into action every day for a month. The program will offer tools and guidance to keep you on track throughout the challenge. Imagine what 30 days of mindfulness and compassion can do for YOU and our world. Join here! (By the way, it’s free!) #compassionit