What's your favorite way to cultivate compassion?
May 30, 2012 3:50 PM   Subscribe

I need more compassion. I'm semi-Buddhist. What's your favorite guided meditation or other focused technique?

I like the metta meditation on this CD by Bodhipaksa. However, I'm still coming up short compassion-wise and would like to branch out into other meditations or techniques.

I've seen this thread, which talks about the topic more generally. Leo Babauta also has ideas here.

What works for you? Thanks!
posted by ceiba to Human Relations (13 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Have you ever considered what it is like to live someone else's life? Not from the transactional sense, but rather from the practical sense.

Here's an example. The Dalai Lama watches in exile over brutal consequences for the faithful. They suffer whilst he gives interviews. What's the reconciliation?

Empathy. If you desire more compassion, perhaps you require more empathy. Empathy is the feeling where 1) you are detached from the outcome of other's actions, yet 2) you feel a spiritual affect to those actions.

An example will be if you see a gang beating an older gentleman. Do you feel empathy for the older gentleman alone? Considering the physical violence to be abhorrent? Or can you sit from afar and watch the process unfold in front of you, feeling a connection to both sides? To the perpetrators for the emptiness that has led them to these actions; and to the victim to be the target of them.

How does one feel greater compassion? Feel empathy for both perpetrator and victim.
posted by nickrussell at 4:19 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't qualify as buddhist, but I get a lot out of Noah Levine when I've gone to dharma talks he has led. I found this article that you might get something out of: this article
I always like the way Noah will talk about how something, like compassion, took him seven years or some length of time that sounds ridiculous.

One of the weird little things I do that seems to help me is when people are asking me for money for food or gas or cigarettes or whatever, I go buy them that thing. I won't give anyone cash, but I'll buy someone food, or something else that they want, not to feel good about myself, but to practice saying yes instead of no. It helps me to reframe the way I see the world. This person is hungry and I can give them food. That is compassion, it is really that simple.

I don't know if that is helpful but I have found some help there in my own journey.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 4:20 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

For me, meditation has nothing to do with Buddhism or spirituality. It's exercise/relaxation for the brain.

1) Sit comfortably.
2) Focus on your breathing.
3) Now...don't think. Don't think about being compassionate or how to be a better person or how to improve the world. Think of nothing. at. all. There is just your breathing. Don't actually think about your breathing--don't try to control it--just let your body breathe and be an awareness of your breathing.
4) Stay in that non-thinking state for as long as you can.

Doing this separates the wheat from the chaff. If you meditate enough, regularly, you can start to think more critically about the things/problems/ideas/goals that actually do matter to you. And of course that includes your desire to be more compassionate.

Meditation works very much like physical exercise. You build up your strength and endurance to a point where you can run a marathon, or bench press 300 pounds, or create world peace.
posted by zardoz at 5:07 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I suggest engaging in a Tong Len practice. I used to do 5 minutes in the midst of my longer sitting sessions.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:37 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of the go-to texts for people learning to meditate here on AskMefi is always Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana and sure enough, he has something to help with compassion as well. In the chapter on "Setting Up Exercises" he explains a meditation on Universal Loving Kindness that may help you with achieving greater compassion. You might want to check it out.
posted by Inkoate at 6:15 PM on May 30, 2012

This is just an example, and maybe a cliche one, but I think children are generally a good place to start with cultivating compassion.

Also to relax it helps to be around people who are gentle, or seemingly lack an agenda.

Babies have this quality in abundance... As do pets, but taking babies as an example.

They have few desires except to to eat, sleep, discovery lfie (well, this is more of an instinct), and be loved.

Setting aside the incredible difficulty of caring for them, babies are pretty much awesome, and know so many things about life. They lack the patience and the complex cognitive skills needed for compassion, but they are magnets for it.
posted by kettleoffish at 10:12 PM on May 30, 2012

Whoops got cut off-- bottom line-- try to spend some time with kids or babies!
posted by kettleoffish at 10:13 PM on May 30, 2012

What works for me is pretty basic. My capacity for world-other compassion is almost exactly proportionate to my capacity for self-compassion. A drain or abundance in the former almost always points to a drain or abundance in the later.

Simple? Yes. Easy? No.
posted by space_cookie at 10:31 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

The thing that's interesting about metta practice specifically, as opposed to general mindfulness practice, is that it isn't the same non-thinking. It's directed thinking, and from that, the feeling comes, or it doesn't come, or it comes in unexpected ways. One of the pieces of advice that I got that really made sense to me was "don't try to *feel* compassion, just direct the mantras/blessings towards the people you're working on (self/beloved other/neutral other/difficult other) and offer the intention." The classic phrases are things like "May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you be happy, may you be at ease." You don't have to feel it, you just have to offer it. It's a subtle distinction, but with practice it evolves, and the person it affects most is yourself - you feel more expansive towards the people around you - using your language here, both the perpetrators and the victims. You learn to offer "lovingkindness", which transforms your experience by letting you detach from the pain and violence and other things you can't control. It's subtle, and it works over time.
posted by judith at 11:36 PM on May 30, 2012 [10 favorites]

One of the most powerful insights into compassion came from a Buddhist monk who was giving a talk on how to deal with difficult people (let's say a work colleague).

His advice was that you only have to deal with his/her problems for a couple of hours every day, but this person has to deal with it 24/7. As someone who doesn't suffer fools gladly, I found this quite effective in working towards being more compassionate.

It is a similar sentiment to that conveyed by this famous quote (which i will paraphrase): 'Be kind to everyone, for everyone is fighting a great battle'
posted by TheOtherGuy at 3:35 AM on May 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Lots of great ideas here. Thanks, everyone!
posted by ceiba at 6:41 AM on May 31, 2012

Not snarky: have some compassion for yourself, too. Having compassion for your own failures and weaknesses makes it easier to have compassion for those in others. You too are fighting a great battle like everyone else.

Its OK not to snatch the grasshopper out of sensei's hand on the first try every day. The practice is not the ability to snatch every day but the discipline to try every day.

(I offer these pearls of wisdom entirely without coming close to mastering their content.)
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 11:11 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

You don't say much about your lack of compassion. However, here's what works for me. Compassion is my natural reaction to most things. These days, my favorite mindfulness exercise when I feel out of harmony with myself due to someone else, is to find my own version of doing it myself. For instance, I found myself wandering around the world thinking "ok, I know that no good deed goes unpunished, but why. Then I tried to find examples where I may have punished someone for a good deed, though not on purpose. I'm not sure if this is a good thing, but I can find most of the qualities that irritate me in myself. It does help with compassion.
posted by DTHEASH1 at 7:09 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

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