Compassion is sharing someone’s pain without sharing their suffering, according to meditation teacher and researcher Shinzen Young. While this sounds kind of contradictory, there’s a point to Young’s logic. One of the core skills of meditation involves focusing on the details of your experience while also accepting that experience in its entirety. Focusing on your experiences in this way allows you to feel them in a more vivid, clear fashion that helps you to cope and move on to the next experience when the time comes. This process is the key to experiencing pain without suffering. If you face a painful experience honestly and fully, without avoiding it or suppressing it, you’ll process the pain more quickly and be better equipped to move on with your life.
Sharing Compassion with Friends
You can show compassion to friends in the same way. When someone you care about experiences pain, you can be with them in their time of need and share their pain while also keeping a balanced and wise perspective on the situation.
This is compassion. Compassion is, by definition, the sympathetic sharing of another’s feelings and misfortunes. Unfortunately, in today’s society, it can be difficult to build that sort of connection with another person. From pressures at work to the hustle of everyday life, it can be easy to become so focused on oneself that noticing others throughout the day is difficult. Instead of feeling connected and responsive to those we care for most, we may feel distanced from both their feelings and our own.
How Meditation Can Help
Fortunately, guided meditation (and mindfulness in particular) is one of several ways to increase your compassion and ability to connect with others around you. There are also lots of physical and psychological benefits of practicing compassion. Several studies into the effects of compassionate behavior show that practicing compassion on a daily basis can:
- Improve your relationships
- Help decrease harmful racial and social bias
- Reduce stress
- And even help you live longer
Unlike solo meditation, guided meditation lets you focus on the practice of meditating without having to worry or plan what to do next or how long to take. By taking these preoccupations away, guided meditation allows you to devote all of your attention to the exercise that will best increase your compassion. But what does building compassion actually, in practice, look like when using guided meditation? One way you can work on building your compassion through meditation is to dedicate a small portion of your practice each day to a meditation practice that:
- Focuses on a person you love.
- Think about that person, allowing yourself to feel compassion for where they have come from and where they are going.
- Allow your feelings to come to you without judgement or dismissal.
- As you feel the warmth in your chest that often comes with compassion, focus on growing and expanding this feeling throughout your body.
To cultivate compassion for someone who may not know well or maybe don’t even get along with, follow the same system:
- Imagine the person who you want to focus on growing your compassion for.
- With this person in mind, focus on wishing them the very best and building that same, warm feeling of compassion that you were able to create for the person you knew and envisioned before.
Eventually, as you work through this practice in your guided meditation, you can work up to practicing a sense of compassion toward people you don’t like or struggle to get along with.
Be Mindful of Yourself and Others
Alongside guided meditation, a constant practice of mindfulness can also be effective in building your compassion toward others. According to a study by Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, the practice of mindfulness helps compassion come more readily to people. Data from the Center shows that those who follow the tenets of mindfulness—which encourage a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s body, thoughts, and feelings—find themselves more aware and present in the presence of others’ suffering, without reflexive judgment. With a little guidance, meditation can help us sympathetically experience others’ feelings without harmful and isolating judgment—that alone will help us take more effective and helpful action that can spread more compassionate thinking across the world.
*Timothy Roy is a writer and programmer based in Austin, TX. When not writing or exercising in one of Austin’s parks, he enjoys meditating with the Brightmind app.