Training for Compassion
Our modern culture does not support the natural activity of our soothing system so it can easily become disused and difficult to access. This means that we need to intentionally connect with the emotions that are associated with this system, such as kindness and compassion.
Simply taking a moment to tune into and connect with feelings of kindness as they come up in everyday life can be helpful here. This includes connecting with how it feels to show kindness to somebody as well as how it feels when someone is kind to us. It is important to be gentle in our attitude about this, and to allow the feelings to be just as they are; sometimes we can feel uncomfortable around kindness or it might be blocked. However it is we allow that to be OK, it is what it is and we aim to bring an attitude of kindness to how things are, whether pleasant or unpleasant.
Meditation exercises are also helpful and help us to train and develop our ability to connect with positive, soothing emotions and mind states. Lovingkindness exercises, which have been practised as part of the Buddhist tradition for thousands of years and are widely available are a good place to start. The Kindness exercise on the exercises page is free to play or download. As we develop our ability to connect with kindness, emotions connected with the same system, including compassion, are also easier to access.
Compassion is a connection with suffering coupled with a strong desire to help. We can feel compassion towards other people's suffering, or our own (self-compassion). When we access feelings of compassion we access our body's natural resources and experience powerful improvements in wellbeing and resilience. It is often easiest to access these feelings first by bringing to mind a friend who is experiencing some difficulty in their life, and imagine that we are sending heartfelt wishes that their suffering can be eased. We can notice the impact of this on our own body, whether we feel a sense of warmth and lightness or maybe heaviness and tension. We try to bring a kind accepting attitude to how it feels, just like we try to cultivate moment to moment acceptance of all of our experience. In doing so we are strengthening the capacity to connect with compassion and benefit from its healing and soothing qualities.
Formal compassion-based exercises are also available and most accessible through Buddhist traditions and teachings.