Thursday, October 13, 2016

Gratefulness and Compassion meditation

Meditation is a way to slow down and appreciate life. For me, it is a way to relax, and prepare for the day, and to fight back against negative thoughts and attitudes that sometimes accumulate in my mind.

There's no one right way to meditate. You can try to empty your mind. You can focus intently on your breath, or on some mantra, or on different parts of your body. You can listen carefully and try to concentrate on perceiving your surroundings. The only rules are to be calm and to be positive. Meditation can sometimes veer into or negative thinking, or rumination: thinking about how other people owe you something, or how you've been mistreated or disrespected, or how you're somehow in an unfixable situation (you're not). Take care that your meditation does not become rumination.

I like to try out different kinds of meditation. Some I read about, some I invent on my own. I recently explained how I think that gratefulness and compassion are the two most important emotions. The rest of this post explains Gratefulness and Compassion Meditation, which is a way to cultivate those two emotions through practice.

Sitting in a comfortable position with your eyes closed, imagine that the air is your connection to the rest of humanity and the rest of the universe.

Start out simple:

Each time you breathe in, imagine that the air is delivering the support of the outside world to you. If it helps you to have a word to concentrate on, imagine the word "gratefulness" as you slowly breathe in.

As you breathe out, imagine your breath carrying love and goodwill from yourself out to the rest of humanity and nature and the universe. Perhaps imagine the word "compassion" as you breathe out.

If want to make the meditation a little more complicated:

As you breathe in, think about specific people, places, objects, and situations that you are grateful for, that sustain you and keep you going. It could be a friend, a family member, the farmers and food packagers that made your breakfast possible, the person who drives the bus you take to work, the room your sitting in, the fact that there is no war in your country, the very air you're breathing. What's amazing (and perhaps surprising) is that there are so many things to be grateful for, you'll never run out, even if you pick a new one every breath.

As you breathe out imagine your love and compassion flowing from you to specific people, animals and places. It could be the same people you thought about while breathing in. It could be people who you think are particularly marginalized or in need of compassion, it could be random strangers you saw on the sidewalk yesterday, or nameless farm animals you've never met. You can keep thinking about the same object for several cycles of breathing out, or you can switch every time. You won't run out of people who deserve your compassion.

If you want to take it even one step further:

As you breathe in, try to imagine being grateful for something that hurts, bothers, or inconveniences you. An annoying co-worker, the mobster who stole your car, the snow that's pouring down, forcing you to spend two hours shoveling and making it hard for you to get to work, the flu that keeps you in bed for three days. Try to feel grateful for everything, particularly the things you have a natural aversion towards.

As you breathe out, direct your compassion towards someone you don't like. Someone who has hurt you. Someone who maybe you feel doesn't deserve your compassion. This could be the same person you were grateful for while breathing in. It could be the mosquito who bit you yesterday. Or your abusive parent. Or the drunk driver who killed your child. Anything or anyone who you find it difficult to feel compassion towards.

Cultivating gratefulness for difficult situations, and compassion towards people we don't like can be extraordinarily difficult work, but it's worth the effort.

Hope that helps someone.

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