3 Meditations that Cultivate Compassion
“How can I help?”
Have you found yourself asking this question a lot more lately? Recent extreme weather events have displaced thousands of people around the world. Tragic violent episodes are plaguing innocent people. Refugees and immigrants face uncertainty, and global diplomacy issues keep tension high.
So, how can you help?
You can take concrete actions to help ease the suffering of those who have been affected by recent tragedies. Your actions could include financial donations for disaster relief, phone calls to your U.S. members of congress to enact legislation, or taking the time to give blood.
Sometimes you may feel paralyzed and unable to take action, and that is a normal reaction. You might feel that you are unable to bear the load of suffering that is dumped upon you week after week. By practicing compassion cultivation meditation techniques, you can learn to stay present with the suffering you’re facing each day without getting overwhelmed. You can train your mind to express empathy for those outside of your normal circle of compassion, and learn how to practice compassion for yourself.
Here are a few compassion meditation practices to help you strengthen your compassion muscles so that during tough times like these, you’re prepared to meet the suffering you witness.
1. Loving-Kindness or Metta Meditation
You can use a simple loving-kindness or metta meditation to help you practice compassion for people who are outside of your normal in-group. Generally, metta meditations begin with offering compassion toward yourself and then expanding that outward to friends and loved ones, and, finally, to people you may not know. You can also use this practice to generate compassionate feelings toward someone who frustrates or angers you.
- Begin by finding a comfortable position that allows you be alert yet relaxed. Take a few deep breaths to settle your mind and ground yourself.
- Next, repeat the following phrases in your mind: “May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be free from suffering.”
- As you say each phrase in your mind, see if you can imagine breathing warmth and compassion into your heart space and then breathing out warmth and compassion toward yourself, letting the compassion permeate your body.
- Next, direct those same phrases to someone who is dear to you, saying: “May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be free from suffering.”
- Finally, pick a person or a group you don’t know well. Perhaps, it’s a neighbor who you see but don’t know well. If you’ve uncovered your unconscious biases, you can practice compassion for the people who you may be implicitly judging, like a certain gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or body type.
- Again, repeating the phrases for this person or group: “May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be free from suffering.”