"Can we train ourselves to be compassionate? A new study suggests the answer is yes. Cultivating compassion and kindness through meditation affects brain regions that can make a person more empathetic to other peoples' mental states….If we are in the middle of being flooding with overwhelming thoughts and emotions, we will not usually become aware of our automatic reactions until our Inner Voice gets activated, when our emotions and thoughts enter our consciousness. So the first step is to practice mindfulness and understand what is really happening inside of us.
"This study was the first to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to indicate that positive emotions such as loving-kindness and compassion can be learned in the same way as playing a musical instrument or being proficient in a sport. The scans revealed that brain circuits used to detect emotions and feelings were dramatically changed in subjects who had extensive experience practicing compassion meditation.
"The research suggests that individuals - from children who may engage in bullying to people prone to recurring depression - and society in general could benefit from such meditative practices, says study director Richard Davidson, professor of psychiatry and psychology at UW-Madison and an expert on imaging the effects of meditation."
-University of Wisconsin-Madison (2008, March 27).“Compassion Meditation Changes The Brain.” ScienceDaily. (Available HERE)
We can also be intentional about planning compassionate responses.
Below is an example of a Compassionate Response Chart.
Bringing to mind your own automatic responses, choose at least one aspect of your inner voice and brainstorm some possible compassionate responses you could practice.
NOTE: Remember, you are practicing compassion, so it is okay if a response “doesn’t work.” Respond with curiosity and more compassion – it often takes time to learn to listen well to our selves.
For Further Practice. It is also useful to develop self-compassion practices for each part of our inner voice. If you have interest, use the practices below. Afterwards, reflect on how you experienced it. Was it helpful? Unhelpful? Were you easily distracted? Can you accept your experience?
• Paying Attention - Often, just being mindful of our reactions is very soothing.
• Remembering the Little Things – Move your attention to something you take for granted (e.g., eating something mindfully, remembering a happy memory, etc.).
• Go Slow – Set some time aside to do something very slowly and intentionally, like drinking a cup of tea. Give it your full attention.
• Gratitude: Bring attention to the fact that your body is the gift of life and invites you into experiencing the world. Do a body scan and cultivate gratefulness for the miracle of life, from the hair on your head to the tips of your toes.
• Forgiving Ourselves – Remember that you inherited this body (and its automatic reactions) from others and from your past actions. Can you see your own body (and its reactions) as you would a body belonging to someone you love?