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Healthy Minds in Practice: Compassion For All Beings

Photo courtesy iStock 

The past few months have been filled with uncertainty and stress. Perhaps you are wrestling with feelings of grief, anger, confusion, frustration or any number of complex emotions. Compassion is the disposition toward caring for and wanting to help those who are suffering. Training compassion entails the recognition that everyone shares a desire to be free from suffering. This 10-minute practice works through the concept of dropping all barriers to compassion and progressively extending compassionate wishes to all beings.

Daniela Labra Cardero

Guided Practice: Compassion For All Beings

Led by Daniela Labra Cardero

Hi, this is Daniela. Thanks for joining me. In this practice we’re going to experiment with dropping all barriers to our compassion and open up to everyone -  to all living beings. Everyone shares our desire to be happy and free from suffering.

Here, we’ll extend our compassion to all of them - and in the process, we’ll learn to dissolve all barriers to our care and concern. Let’s give this a try and see how it goes.

Sit in an upright yet relaxed posture. Try to be comfortable and alert at the same time.

Our scope is big here, so let’s start by developing an inspiring motivation for the practice. See if you can form a motivation that extends to everyone. You might think, “I’m doing this practice so everyone might be free from suffering and hardship. So everyone can experience more well-being.”

Now focus on your breath. Be aware of how your breath comes through your nose and fills your lungs, then flows back out.

Start by reflecting on your own desire to avoid hardship in your life. What are all the ways that compassion shows up in your life? For instance, seeking support from a friend or partner in a time of need, or taking medicine when you’re sick. Repeat a phrase to wish yourself compassion. Something like, “may I be free from hardship.” 

Next, expand to include people you care about, your loved ones, friends and acquaintances. They too want to be free of life’s challenges. For each person who comes to mind, imagine them in your mind’s eye and include them in your compassionate wish, repeating the phrase: “may we be free from suffering”, “may we be free from suffering.”

Now include strangers in your city or neighborhood. Think of specific people you encounter, or even just imagine you’re extending compassion in ever-widening circles - starting in your area and expanding from there. As you do this, continuing to repeat the phrase, “may we be free from suffering.”

Let’s pause for a short break. Reconnect with the breath for a moment. Notice as the air moves in and out of your body.

Great. Now keep expanding your circle to include everyone in your country. In every town and city there are people that share this same basic wish to avoid hardship and suffering. They’re working because they need money to survive. They’re spending time with friends and family to relax. They’re trying to find time to follow their passion. Extend your compassion to them and think, “may we be free from suffering.”

Now open your focus to everyone on Earth. Think of people in both developed and underdeveloped countries, people of various ages, ethnicities and genders. We all want to avoid hardship. We all need to find shelter, and food, and clean air and peace. Include every single person in your wish, and keep repeating the phrase: “May we be free from suffering”, “may we be free from suffering.”

Keep imagining more and more diverse people around the world and notice how we all share the same basic desire to avoid hardship. We all have a natural inclination for compassion. Keep repeating the phrase to express your wish to relieve everyone of their burdens: “may we be free from suffering.” If a specific global concern persists in your mind, you can revise the phrase. So if you’re finding yourself concerned about global hunger, for example, you might say, “may we all have food.”

Okay. For these last few moments, let go of the practice and rest in awareness. Simply be present. Drop all the effort and doing and just be. 

Congratulations. Your willingness to experiment with this is a big step - the first step to radically dropping all barriers to our compassion. The fact is, we’re all in the same boat - every living creature. Nobody wants to face hardship. This motivation is a sign of our basic goodness. As you go about your week, see if you can notice that same inclination to avoid hardship in everyone you see. Friends, strangers on the street, people you see on the news and even animals. And don’t forget to enjoy the process. It feels good to connect! 

Awareness. Connection. Insight. Purpose. We consider these to be four ingredients of a healthy mind. You can train yourself to improve these skills, just like you can develop any habit. This audio practice is provided by Healthy Minds Innovations (HMI), an external, affiliated nonprofit dedicated to supporting the mission of the Center for Healthy Minds. Want more practices? Try the Healthy Minds Program App.

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