Could Meditation Be The Key to Learning Compassion?
Recently the journal Psychological Science published a study by PhD student Helen Weng, which suggested that adults can learn how to be more compassionate by listening to meditation CDs, or repeating positive phrases such as ‘may you have joy and happiness’. This research focuses on how people can encourage and maintain positive thinking, and is the principle area of study for the Centre for Investigating Healthy Minds. This began after the 14th Dalai Lama had challenged a professor of meditation to study positive feelings, attitudes and behaviours in humans. Weng herself was able to present her research to the Dalai Lama.
The study was developed after the researchers had observed Buddhist monks practicing compassion meditation, and found that their brain patterns differed significantly from normal people. It was then suggested that if a regular person could feel the benefits of compassion meditation within a short period of time, this could provide a useful form of therapy and behavioural change, as well as improving general mental wellness.
The meditation works by attempting to evoke compassion. Usually, the meditation is done with someone who you love and care about. You imagine a time where they might be suffering or in pain, and then you repeat compassionate phrases wishing them to be free of suffering. This is then done to the self, imagining a time when you were or might be in pain, and repeating the phrases to yourself. Weng stated that a lot of people can be harsh on themselves, and then self-compassion is a useful and important way to boost self-esteem and confidence. This is done a third time to a real or imagined stranger, and lastly is done to a person you dislike, which can be hardest of all.
In the study participants used meditation CDs online, and practiced compassionate meditation for two weeks, and found that those who practiced the meditation were far more compassionate, kind and forgiving than those who had not. Often positive emotions are ignored by modern research, but as such an important aspect of wellness, studies and investigations into feelings of compassion, forgiveness and generosity are becoming more and more popular.