Use these instructions to begin your practice
Below is a step-by-step set of instructions on how to practice compassion meditation, from members of the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism training team. For more about Compassion Meditation, see our companion article with audio, as well as the June 2014 issue of Live Happy magazine.
1. Create a space
It might be a small room in your home or an outdoor garden where you won’t be disturbed, or anywhere you can find a few moments of quiet. If you have a regular practice space, make it beautiful—bring in images, smells and sounds that are meaningful to you.
Begin by committing to 5 to 10 minutes of meditation once a day, and plan to expand it to 20 minutes once you feel comfortable slipping into meditation. Studies show that the more time you spend in meditation, the more compassionate you become.
3. Feel your natural rhythm
Find a comfortable place to sit and take a posture that is straight but not overly rigid. Take a few deep breaths, then let your breath settle into its own natural rhythm. Take a minute or two to settle into your body, lightly focusing your attention on the physical sensations of the breathing process.
4. Think about the people in your life
Once you are settled, think about all the people in your life who love and support you. Now, think about the ways in which you, too, play a supportive role in the lives of countless others. Let your mind abide in this awareness of interconnectedness for a little while.
If you are doing a self-guided compassion meditation, you might think of someone with whom you are irritated or frustrated. Picture the person in your mind if you are a visual thinker, or just focus on your sense of that specific person. Consider that this person has a desire for a life imbued with purpose, work that is meaningful, relationships that are supportive. Consider this person’s web of social connections—the people they are important to, and how much these people care about them. Think of their rich, textured life experiences, including their disappointments and successes.
5. Listen to your body
Notice how focusing your attention on this person shows up in your body. Take note of the kind of physical sensations you are experiencing. What is the emotional undertone?
Turn your attention toward your own inner experience with a sense of curiosity. Perhaps your reflections are enhancing a sense of connection to the person or perhaps the opposite. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Simply notice, with curiosity. You can stay with this exploration for as long as it feels comfortable for you. If you are a new meditator, this could be three to five minutes; if you are experienced, you might stay longer.
6. Feel your connection with others
As your meditation practice draws to a close, let your heart and mind be touched by the feeling of common humanity and connection with others, and rest your attention on the natural rhythm of your breath.
7. Extend your awareness back into the world
When you sense you’re nearing the end of the time you’ve set aside, take a few minutes to make a conscious transition into the space you’re in, sensing the temperature of the air on your skin, feeling the floor beneath you. Take your time and experiment with seeing how you can carry the continuity of your awareness forward into the activities that you move into next.
8. Tinker and find your way
Once you’re comfortable with the basics of a compassion meditation, think about how you might personalize it. Adapting practices to fit your values, your language and your inclinations is important.
With time, this kind of practice should help us learn how to reach past that moment of discomfort in which we turn away from those who need our help.
Do you have a specific method to your meditation? Tell us about it in the comments, below.