Compassion meditation is a loving practice that can help you cultivate empathy and kindness. It can enhance your feelings of benevolence towards others, fostering deeper and more positive relationships.
Most forms of meditation ask you to merely be aware of your thoughts and experiences without any form of judging. With compassion meditation, though, you are not just aware of the experiences lived by yourself or others; you also acknowledge the pain and suffering involved.
By understanding and accepting that suffering is part of life, you can then cultivate compassion towards them and yourself.
Defining Compassion Meditation
Compassion meditation is practiced to move from neutral or negative thoughts towards kind, positive thoughts. It can help you shift from indifference or even dislike to acceptance and caring. This changing mindset can be towards someone you love, someone you don’t care for, or yourself.
When you practice compassion meditation, you’ll find that you don’t have to force your change of opinion knowingly. Instead, through the practice itself, your attitude begins to alter on its own. As you continue your practice, the thoughts and mantras that you use will permeate your thought patterns, leading you to exhibit more compassion in your everyday life.
Compassion vs. Loving Kindness
Compassion Meditation can sometimes be confused with Loving Kindness meditation. They are similar practices, and the difference is quite subtle.
Loving Kindness meditation (metta): focuses on wishing for all beings to be happy.
Compassion meditation (karuna): desires for all beings to be free from suffering.
Both are effective practices that will encourage understanding, but compassion meditation acknowledges distress or pain and sends your wishes to relieve suffering.
How to Practice Compassion Meditation
Compassion meditation begins like other forms of meditation.
- Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit.
- Focus on your breathing while you let your mind settle.
Then shift your thoughts to someone you care deeply about.
- Imagine this person next to you. Let feelings of love fill your heart.
- Think of any difficult times they may be experiencing or pain they may be feeling.
- Now send them your compassion. You can make up your phrases or use some of these:
- May you be free from pain and sorrow.
- May you know peace.
- May your heart feel at ease.
- Repeat your phrases for several minutes.
Repeat the steps above, but switch your thoughts to:
- Someone, you don’t know very well, such as a bus driver or the cashier at your local grocery store
- Someone who is causing difficulty in your life, perhaps someone with whom you recently had a disagreement
- All beings – send out your compassion for all beings to know peace.
When you are done with your meditation, spend a few minutes basking in the feelings of compassion and understanding. Concentrate on your breathing once again as you end your practice.
When you first begin practicing compassion meditation, start with a shorter practice – 20 minutes should be enough. You may also prefer to follow a guided meditation until you get used to doing it independently.
The Benefits of Compassion Meditation
All forms of meditation benefit your mind and body. Compassion meditation, however, takes those benefits even further.
Improve Your Emotional Health
You will see clear improvements in your emotional well-being once you begin practicing compassion meditation consistently. Research shows benefits such as improved moods, decreased anger, more altruistic behavior, and reduced stress.
Practicing compassion meditation enhances self-compassion. This can help you reduce or even prevent feelings of depression.
Strengthen Your Immune System
Compassion meditation can lower your levels of cortisol – the “fight or flight” hormone. This reduces stress and leads to a more robust immune system, as stress often leads to illness.
Improve Your Mental Health
You may also experience a reduction in maladaptive mind wandering. Some levels of mind wandering and daydreaming are natural and healthy. But, maladaptive mind wandering interferes with your normal emotional functions and can lead to depression.
The longer you practice compassion meditation, the more you will acknowledge the suffering and feel compassion towards others, even when not meditating. This will help you be more present and connected with others. It also makes it easier for you to forgive others when you have disagreements.
Better Management of PTSD
A study of individuals with PTSD showed reduced symptoms after practicing compassion meditation for 12 weeks. It also reduced their anger and depression. If you have PTSD, compassion meditation could be part of your overall recovery plan.
Alleviate Physical Pain
If you suffer from chronic physical pain, compassion meditation can reduce the physical pain and the psychological stress that goes with it.
Of course, the most significant benefit of compassion meditation is the enhanced empathy you feel for others – and yourself. Ultimately, this will lead to more altruistic behavior and a greater understanding of all beings.