|Compassion means being sensitive to suffering and being motivated to alleviate it. When we experience compassion, we find ourselves moved in the face of suffering, and we experience the desire to help. Increasingly we are finding that cultivating compassion toward ourselves and others can help us to improve our own emotional health while also helping us to contribute positively to the world we live in.|
How do we develop compassion? The good news is that the seeds of compassion are already in all of us. Our brains have evolved to respond powerfully to experiences of nurturing others and to being nurtured ourselves. However, we have lots of other competing motivations that can be activated when we feel threatened, or when we are pursuing goals like material possessions or status. These motivations can interfere with our natural capacity for compassion. For this reason, if we really want to bring compassion into our everyday lives, it helps to intentionally cultivate it.
On this website (which is in development), we'll be providing you with some suggestions for how you could go about cultivating compassion in your own life. However, to begin, the road to deepening our compassion can be helped by considering a few key ideas and strategies:
- As His Holiness the Dalai Lama often says, "everyone just wants to be happy and to avoid suffering." That what we all want: to be happy, and to not suffer. Everyone we see, no matter how difficult or unreasonable their behavior may seem to be, is attempting to pursue happiness or to avoid suffering. Understanding this, and that we are all united in this desire, can help us develop sympathy and empathy for others, potentially even allowing us to judge those who we feel are causing difficulties for us a bit less harshly. We all sometimes create difficulties for others by attempting to pursue happiness in misguided ways.
- We can also recognize that everyone has a life story that runs just as deep as ours does. It's easy to go through life as if we are the stars of our own private movies - like everything that happens is really about us. However, the truth is that everyone has a life full of hopes and dreams, tragedies and disappointments, joy and suffering. Realizing this can help us experience compassion for them.
- We can use the power of our imagination to cultivate compassion. The emotional centers of our brain often respond to imagined experience in a way that is similar to how they respond to things that happen in the outside world (which is how we can keep ourselves angry for hours on end, playing a situation that ended hours ago over and over in our minds). We can use this to cultivate compassion - by picturing others in our minds, and sending compassionate wishes out to them - that they be happy, free from suffering, at peace, and prosperous. We can imagine how it would feel like to be kind, wise, confident compassionate people who truly wish the best for others. It doesn't matter if we really feel like that or not - we can imagine what it would be like if we did feel that way, and in doing so, begin to activate those parts of our brains that will help us actually become that sort of compassionate person.
- You might consider carrying a small stone or other object in your pocket - a 'compassion reminder,' that will prompt you to think about one of the points above whenever you put your hand in your pocket and touch it. For example, every time you feel your stone, you could look at the next person you see and consider that, just like you, they just want to be happy and not suffer. You could imagine them quickly progressing through life (as an infant, child, adolescent, adult, elder), facing joys, pains, love, loss, and even death as they go through a life that is every bit as important to them as yours is to you. You could even imagine yourself sending compassionate wishes out to them: "May you be happy. May you be free from suffering. May you have peace. May you prosper."
These are just a few ways to begin cultivating compassion. More will be included on this website in the future. The most important thing is to connect with the aspiration to become more compassionate, and to nurture that aspiration within yourself, again and again.
- You could go on a 'Compassion Walk,' connecting with one of the above realizations or sending compassionate wishes out to everyone you see as you walk. The key is to keep activating the parts of your brain that are involved with compassion, to ''wear in" compassionate brain patterns and establish these ways of thinking as habits.