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The Benefits of Compassion

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In these turbulent times, compassion may be one of the most valuable resources we have. The first part of this article will focus on compassion and its benefits. In part two, we will discuss practical application.

Compassion Amidst Harsh Daily Realities

Compassion starts with ourselves, for ourselves, and is then practiced with the people we come across in our daily lives. Compassion can also be practiced for people you have never met that live on the other side of the globe. We are seeing suffering in almost every direction we turn both locally and globally. It is overwhelming. When we are exposed to some of the harsh daily realities, we can experience a myriad of emotions and mental states, from depression to despair, from anger to grief, from passion to numbness. Compassion keeps our hearts soft and our minds open. It keeps us from becoming a victim, a judge, or emotionally numb. It also contributes to a healthy immune system.

Benefits of Compassion

The Dalai Lama says “ Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity can not survive “ There are many definitions of compassion. The Buddhist definition of compassion is the wish for others to be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. In other words, it is a genuine desire for others to be free, happy, and peaceful.

What is interesting and exciting is that as we practice compassion for others we, in turn, benefit ourselves. Practicing compassion quite literally benefits us physically and mentally. “ More than just a feel-good practice, compassion meditation leads to improved mood, more altruistic behavior, less anger, reduced stress, and decreased maladaptive mind wandering, according to research “. ( 1 )

Spiritual Practices Proven By Science

Today’s world is a ripe environment for studying the overlap between science and spirituality. One organization that does just that is called Mind and Life Institute. MLI was the brainchild of His Holiness The Dalai Lama, scientist, and philosopher Francisco Varela and Adam Eagle ( lawyer and entrepreneur). The institute studies contemplative wisdom using scientific methods to explore how these practices affect us as individuals and as a society.

Meditation | Cloud 9.5

‘In 2006 Ph.D. Helen Wang, a fellow of MLI, received a grant to study the impact of contemplative compassion practice on the brain and prosocial behavior. Using neuroscience and functional magnetic resonance imaging ( MRI ) she set out to explore how “ inner practice translates into outer changes” Study participants were asked to generate compassion towards pictures of people suffering. For two weeks, each practiced for 30 minutes a day. “ The results were amazing! People were able to attend to suffering in a more equanimous way because their amygdalas were not getting triggered. The common reaction to being sad or having a desire to turn away was replaced by a desire to help ease the suffering of others. The study also found that participants were more generous in an economic exchange game after the two-week practice. “The more generous they were, the more their brains changed in response to pictures of suffering in regions associated with empathy and emotion regulation” ( 2)

It is an awesome wonder that we live in an age where we have the technology and science to demonstrate to us the power of our mind. When we change the way we use our mind, it alters the way our brain responds. We can literally change the way our mind responds to different stimuli and affect a physical change in our brain. We quite literally can re-hardwire our brain and we don’t need an Elon Musk neural link chip to do it! We can, through practice, focus, and willingness, increase our capacity for compassion.

Practicing compassion, not only affects the brain but the immune system and heart as well. A study published in Clinical Psychological Science shows that university students who engaged in exercises focused on self-compassion had lower physiological arousal relative to peers who engaged in other exercises.

“These findings suggest that being kind to oneself switches off the threat response and puts the body in a state of safety and relaxation that is important for regeneration and healing,” ( Hans Kirschner of the University of Exeter) ( 3 ) In an article on practicing loving-kindness the results demonstrate that “Our brains have positive psychological reactions with even simple acts of kindness. Chemicals released during the act of helping someone else help reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, decrease blood pressure, protect our hearts, lessen aches and pains, strengthen our immune system, and slow aging. “ ( 4)

Brain Chemicals | Cloud 9.5

In closing, I wish to remind you that compassion is an important tool that can help you stay healthy both physically and emotionally. I would posit that compassion is the new vitamin “ C”. Please return for Part 2 as we explore the practical applications of practicing compassion for ourselves and others. In the meantime, I invite you to apply the practice of compassion for yourself and others and note the way it makes you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. Your practical application of compassion and loving-kindness just may be the immunity boost that you or someone else needs today. The best part - it’s absolutely free!

( 1 ) https://health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/2016-03-23/the-surprising-benefits-of-compassion-meditation

(2 ) https://www.mindandlife.org/helen-weng-using-science-to-spread-a-message-of-compassion-equity-and-inclusion/#more-5522

( 3 ) https://www.psychologicalscience.org/publications/observer/obsonline/self-compassion-benefits.html

(4 ) https://www.henryford.com/blog/2016/11/boost-health-acts-kindness

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