Creating Compassion

h Much of our daily life in seamless. We flow from situation to situation. Our body, mind and spirit work together in harmony to accomplish our goals. But frequently, we run into barriers. Certain life events trigger the reactive mind, and harmony dissipates.

The reactive mind is triggered by any event that does not match our wishes or expectations; rejections, failures, stress and disappointments of all kinds. The barrier we have hit is familiar. We know this wall well. Hasn't this happened before; it seems like forever?

The Tibetan word for this reactive state of mind is schempa. The Buddhist scholar, Pema Chodrun, translates shempa as 'hooked.' She describes being hooked as characterized by a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. We wish to escape, not wanting to be in this situation. Often this feeling state is paired with the destructive emotions of fear, anger, sadness or obsession.

From the perspective of Buddhist psychology, our task is to open our heart to the shempa, not close it. The open heart restores lost harmony. The open heart allows us to release destructive emotions and return to a state of balance. The closed heart morphs into hostility, withdrawal, addiction, anxiety or despair.

The basic tool to counter the shempa is meditation. And, in my experience, there are two forms of meditation. The most basic form of meditation is single focus meditation. In this form, the mediator focuses on only one thing, often one’s breath, to the exclusion of all else. Extraneous thoughts, feelings and sensations are noticed, then released while the mediator returns to focusing on their breathing. Single point meditation facilitates calming the reactive mind. It leads to a sense of equanimity, centered-ness, and well being.

The second form of meditation is corrective. Often a guru or mentor will utilize a special practice meditation to help a student counter a destructive shempa. Psychologically, this may be seen as creating a positive character trait, or attempting to replace a dysfunctional character attribute.

One of the most common corrective meditations is, creating compassion. The purpose of compassion is primarily to counter the shempa of anger. In Buddhist psychology, compassion is seen as our natural state of being, while anger is a painful and artificial state created by the reactive mind.

Sit in a centered and quiet way. Breathe softly and slowly. Begin by thinking of someone you truly love. Visualize that person, and let your natural feeling for them flow. Focus on your heart. Feel your heart open and expand. Think of the suffering that loved one has experienced in their life: rejections, failures, loss of love and physical challenges. Open your heart to them, wish them well, extend comfort and silently share in their pain. Allow the mind to flow, open to positive images that capture the heart of compassion: an innocent child, a frail elder, or a beloved pet.

Aloud or silently chant:
May you be held in compassion
May your pain and sorrow be eased
May you be peaceful

Repeat this mantra a few times. Practice daily, gradually extending this chant for 5-10-20 minutes.

Now, can you focus on someone whom you feel has caused you great pain? Replace the reactive judgments toward them of anger, revenge and self-righteousness.

Can you repeat the same mantra?
May you be held in compassion
May your pain and sorrow be eased
May you be peaceful.

Can you feel your heart soften? Can you feel the release of tension? Can you feel the link of compassion with your former enemy? Can you feel your life lighten?

Lastly, apply this lesson to yourself:

May I be held in compassion
May my pain and sorrow be eased
May I be at peace

Following a general meditation session, use this compassion practice. After a few months of practice you will strengthen the compassionate character trait in yourself, and clear a path to bring greater harmony in your life and relationships.

Read Jack Kornfield’s, The Wise Heart for complete exploration of compassion practice.

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About the writer: Dr. Michael Abramsky

Michael Abramsky PhD, ABPP is a licensed psychologist with 35 years of experience treating adolescents and adults for anxiety, depression and trauma. He is nationally Board Certified in both Clinical and Forensic psychology. Dr. Abramsky also has an MA in Comparative Religions, and has practiced and taught Buddhist Meditation for 25 years.

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