How compassionate are you? Do you tend to treat others as you’d like to be treated? Or do you instead have a difficult time feeling empathy toward others?
It’s not a judgment. The truth is, compassionate behavior is complex. Many, it not most, of us act very differently from one situation to another.
And of course, we’re ALL susceptible to compassion fatigue where we become overwhelmed by the needs and suffering of others. Especially given the sheer amount of bad news that displays the horrors of the world in such a nonchalant manner.
We become numb to it all. So in the midst of it all, how can we learn compassion?
Why Compassion Matters
The Dalai Lama says, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” So before we delve into the idea of learning compassion, we’ll explore the reasons it’s so important.
Compassion is not an automatic response. It’s a measured response to a situation that’s perceived as unjust, serious, and – perhaps most importantly – relatable. Thus it requires a level of concern, awareness, and empathy. But it is sincere, genuine, and from the heart.
A single act of compassion can forever change a person’s life. It is what motivates humans to care for and help out one another. It’s the willingness to give and the commitment to place another’s needs above your own.
And it is what ultimately drives society to be inclusive and to allow all of its members safely and fully engage in all that life has to offer. In a nut shell, compassion lifts people up. Plus, the positive effects of compassion are multiplied when the person who receives it shares those same benefits with others.
Every person desires compassion and every person deserves it.
So obviously, compassion is important to your happiness as well as society’s happiness at large. But what if you struggle to be compassionate in your own life?
Study Reveals We Can Learn Compassion
Evidence from a study suggests that compassion can, indeed, be taught through a form of compassion training. More simply put, through mindfulness meditation.
The study brought in a group of young adults who were taught to engage in an ancient Buddhist technique of compassionate meditation. The intention of this technique is to increase caring feelings for people who are experiencing suffering.
During their time in meditation, the participants were asked to visualize a time they were suffering. They then rehearsed wishing for relief for themselves from that suffering.
From there, they were then asked to experience compassion for someone outside of themselves such as a friend or family member who might be suffering. The circle expanded from there to feeling compassion for a complete stranger who was struggling.
Then finally, they were asked to regard with compassion someone they didn’t care for or with whom they had a conflict. Of course, this was the difficult part. And most likely where the most growth occurred.
The participants received this training for a period of 30 minutes daily for just two weeks.
What the Study Found
Researchers found that not only did these young adults learn to be more compassionate, but they also demonstrated more altruistic behaviors. Furthermore, the researchers discovered that compassion training can actually lead to changes in the brain.
The noted that participant had an increase in brain activity in the inferior parietal cortex – the part of the brain associated with empathy and understanding. Other regions of the brain associated with emotional regulation and positive emotions also demonstrated an increase in activity.
Learning compassion doesn’t require you to sit in meditation for thirty minutes each day though. There are countless ways to start adding compassion into your every day life. It starts with being mindful of your surroundings. Put your phone down. Pay attention to what you see, hear, and feel. Smile at someone who passes you on the street. Truly listen to what others have to say. These are all great places to start.
Learn Compassion for a Better World
Compassion is a powerful force. Because it makes no distinction between age, ethnicity, gender or disability, it is able to replace judgment with acceptance. To learn compassion is to defeat indifference, intolerance, and injustice. And this is more important now than ever.
So if you’d like to practice ways to be more compassionate, contact us today to find out about our virtual or mobile yoga/mindfulness/meditation services.