Cultivating mindfulness requires a little more than just following a set of instructions or guided meditations. In practising mindfulness, you will have to bring your whole being to the process. You can’t just assume a meditative posture and think something will happen or play a tape and think that tape will ‘do something’ for you. The attitude with which you undertake the practise of paying attention and being in the present is crucial.
These attitudes are both needed for practising mindfulness and are in turn cultivated by its practise. Each one relies on and influences the degree to which you are able to develop the others. Working on any one will rapidly lead you to the others.
In a series of small blogs, Urban Mindfulness will discuss the different attitudes that form the pillars mindfulness practise.
8 – Compassion
Compassion can be defined as the ability to empathize with and feel the pain and suffering, both that of ourselves and that of others, and is accompanied by the motivation and wish to relieve this pain and suffering. Every human being has a natural predisposition for compassion, but there are many reasons that might have prevented this from blossoming fully.
Luckily, compassion can be trained and developed in many ways. Practising mindfulness is not only about paying attention from moment to moment, but more importantly on how you pay attention. By holding all experiences in gentle and compassionate awareness you allow a kind curiosity to develop, even for the less pleasant experiences. By reacting with kindness to difficulties within the meditation (e.g. wandering mind, restlessness, physical or emotional pain) instead of adding suffering by blaming yourself, being impatient or negatively judge your experience or pain you practise loving kindness, compassion and heartfulness. Know that what you practise becomes stronger. It is up to you to choose whether to practise impatience or kindness; resistance and blaming or compassion.
The Metta meditation explicitly practises loving-kindness while the ‘working with difficulties’ meditation from the 8-week MBCT training explicitly practices compassion by softening the resistance to difficulties, acknowledging the pain and saying ‘It’s already here, let me be open to it’. In that regard, whenever the is pain or suffering involved, loving-kindness might become compassion.
Loving-kindness and compassion need to start with, or at least include, yourself. By nurturing and directing these qualities for and at yourself, you will find that they spread to other more naturally.
Remember: what you practise becomes stronger.