I enjoy reading Eric Barker’s blog Barking up the Wrong Tree. Barker interviews experts and researches ways that science can improve our lives. His most recent post, How to Be Compassionate: 3 Research-Backed Steps to a Happier Life, recommends meditation. Of course it does!
It seems counter intuitive to sit alone in order to develop compassion. In fact it sounds damn selfish. Yet sitting still and following each breath allows us to gain more space within ourselves to accept the feelings of others.
In his book Buddha is as Buddha Does Lama Surya Das recommends tonglen, a Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice. Das translates tonglen as meaning “giving-receiving.” He further states: “Breathing in, we imagine siphoning up the world’s suffering into our own being, where it’s dissipated. Breathing out, we envision discharging our own positive energy as a replacement for that suffering.” (p. 49)
Das suggests first being kind to ourselves. After you have begun your meditation for a few breathes see yourself as having two sides: the loving side and a suffering side. As you breathe in resolve to suffuse the sad suffering part of yourself into the loving joyful part. As you breathe out think of “sunlight and breezes” and again resolve and pray that the suffering part of yourself become immersed in your most loving and joyful aspects.
Once you have paid respects to yourself “widen your generosity” to meditate on members of your family, friends, and then widen your circle as the meditation continues. Notice how you feel when you consider someone that you do not like.
I love Das’s use of the word generosity. Compassion requires a generosity of spirit. Do you think of yourself as a compassionate person? How does that manifest itself in your life? I am ever so curious.