“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” — Dalai Lama
I like to keep up to date with current developments in mindfulness, meditation and Buddhism. This results in my contact with varying interpretations on the benefits of living a lifestyle which includes compassion for self, for the other, for animals and the environment.
However, it was Karen Armstrong who first drew my attention to the power of this personal quality. Her interest in compassion arose from her own struggle with religious belief. When she lost her faith in the Catholicism in which she was raised, she was motivated to study a wide range of different religions. This led to her understanding of the main role played by compassion in all the different faiths; those of both the East and the West.
Promoting her ideas on TED
In 2007 she drew the attention of a broad audience to the benefits the practice of compassion can bring to the individual when incorporated into our lifestyle. With a beautifully articulated TED talk, she created an awareness of how compassion needs to be learned to enhance our wellbeing. “Compassion doesn’t mean feeling sorry for people. It doesn’t mean pity. It means putting yourself in the position of the other, learning about the other. Learning what’s motivating the other,” she said.
In 2008 that she was awarded the annual TED prize for promoting the importance of developing a compassionate lifestyle. She believed in a worldwide movement towards minimising war if the benefits of compassion could be learned and practised by a sufficient number of people. https://www.ted.com/talks/karen_armstrong_makes_her_ted_prize_wish_the_charter_for_compassion?language=en
Charter for Compassion
Karen worked with an international panel on a Charter for Compassion, which came out in 2012. It opens with these words: “The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect…………………”
It was Matthieu Ricard who trained as an engineer and later became a Monk who first drew scientific attention to the neurological changes taking place in our brain when we have developed our capacity for compassion. It was about 25 years ago when he was the first person to be placed in an MRI machine at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to meditate on compassion. What the scientists observed was profound. The needle measuring the activity of the delta waves of the unconscious mind jumped off the graph paper. Due to his thousands of hours of meditation, Ricard had control over parts of his brain that are normally unconscious. You can listen to him here: https://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_how_to_let_altruism_be_your_guide
Meditation and Compassion
The psychoanalytic model divides the mind into the Conscious, the Unconscious, and the Subconscious. With the long term practice of meditation, you can gain access to both the unconscious and the subconscious mind, which helps you to have greater control of your emotions. This is what makes the study of the theory and practice of Meditation and Mindfulness so worthwhile. I put myself through a two-year University Diploma Course on the theory and practice of mindfulness as for the past six years have developed a daily early morning meditation practice. I do believe that this regular routine has allowed me to maintain my emotional responses at equilibrium and not overreact to stress and the inevitable receiving of bad news.
Christine Neff, who is the leader in promoting the capacity to look after ourselves, says very wisely, “Compassion for others isn’t sustainable without compassion for self. Self-compassion involves “being with” ourselves in a compassionate way, as we naturally do for our friends who struggle. It also involves protecting and motivating ourselves. Saying “no” to others who are hurting us, drawing our boundaries firmly, as well as giving ourselves what we need to be fulfilled mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
I recently attended a presentation by Arthur Shostak. He is an American sociologist and futurist, and former professor of sociology. The last few years he has been travelling around the world to promote the concept of “Holocaust Compassion”; a very different concept to “Holocaust Fatigue” when people become overburdened with the suffering of this period regrettable period of horrific events during World War 2. Shostak has made a study of people who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save the life of others.
Guards who were threatened with death if they spoke to the new arrivals, would at the times of the selection process whisper instructions to them in an effort to save their life. People younger than 15 or older than 40, would automatically be sent to their death at the gas chambers. The guards would whisper this information to the assembled victims allowing those individuals just short of the lower age limit, or just above the upper one to claim on age between 16 and 39!
Compassion and You
If you have not considered learning the art and theory of Mindfulness and Meditation, it is a study which I heartedly recommend. Indeed, it will develop your capacity for compassion for both yourself and for other people.
And, if you wish to share your compassion stories, that would be great as well. That is what the comments session on this blog is all about.