10 Easy Ways To Cultivate Compassion
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3 Ways to Practice Compassion
Real News. Real Voices. Search for:. Our Work Education Research Engagement. Research Lead. And the children! Oh my god. Now, of course, this can be very useful for working out how to avoid lions in the first place, or to make a spear. But it can also trap us in fear. This is what we call emotional memory.
Suppose that you like holidays.
When you think about holidays, it makes you excited. But then on one holiday you get severely beaten up and robbed, and you end up in the hospital. What will happen the following year when you think about holidays? Well, that trauma memory will come back, and so holidays are no longer pleasant to you. The attachment system—the parts of the brain that facilitate loving connection with our parents—fuses with the fear system.
So as that child grows up and begins to feel connection with other people, he is opening up the attachment system—but unfortunately, in his emotional memory, attachment is also toxic. That person now has a mental health problem. They ruminate about things that frighten them, they ruminate about being no good or inferior.
They focus on all the negative aspects. This is not their fault, because we have a natural, old-brain threat bias. As Rick Hanson notes , the brain is Velcro for negative- and threat-based things but Teflon for positive ones. Fortunately, we also have the skills to reconcile the old brain with the new. One of them is a technique that we call mindfulness —moment-to-moment awareness of thoughts and feelings.
Buddhism and Compassion
That is, we have the capacity to be aware of awareness, and to simply observe and become familiar with the tricks our minds play on us. This is a phenomenally important evolutionary quality, almost like a quality of developing a visual system. Before animals had the capacity to be aware of light, there was no awareness of light.
But of course light exists. Mindfulness helps us understand that attention is like the spotlight—whatever it shines on is what becomes brighter in the mind, which can even affect us physiologically. Try this: Deliberately imagine your excitement around a vacation, or the possibility of winning a lottery.
Let that be your focus for a minute of two and notice what happens in you body. Then switch your attention on purpose to an argument or one of your core worries at the moment. Notice what happens in your body.
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Did you feel very differently, according to where your attention was focused? Attention also puts things outside the spotlight, into darkness. Well, whom do you think about when you go home?