Emma Seppälä, PhD, science director, Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Stanford University, California, and author of The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success.
If you suffer from chronic pain, and perhaps the angry emotions that hurting all the time can lead to, there’s a drug-free treatment that takes only 15 minutes a day and can bring real relief.
It’s called compassion meditation. It’s not like “regular” meditation. Rather than letting your mind wander, you actively direct your thoughts—toward kindness and altruism. Don’t believe this could relieve your pain? Rigorous scientific studies have found that it can—and it even may help you live longer.
At the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University School of Medicine, we study compassion and altruistic behavior and their health effects. Here’s what recent research at our center and other institutions has found…
With roots in Buddhist philosophy, compassion meditation aims to strengthen feelings of compassion and empathy toward yourself and other people—to generate feelings of kindness toward yourself and others. It’s different from the well-known “mindfulness” meditation, which is mostly focused on calming the mind and increasing awareness. In compassion meditation, rather than letting your thoughts come and go without judgment, you focus your attention in specific ways as you silently repeat benevolent phrases or visualize kind wishes.
The goal is to express your intention to move from judgment or dislike to caring, compassion, acceptance and understanding. Compassion meditation involves bringing to mind people you know and love, feeling their love and spreading caring feelings toward strangers or even people you find challenging.
It isn’t hard to do. To do it, sit quietly, close your eyes, breathe gently and silently repeat a phrase designed to evoke a feeling of goodwill toward yourself, such as “May I be happy, healthy and strong.” Then, extend the good wishes to someone you feel thankful for, then to someone you’re indifferent to, then to someone you find challenging and finally to the world at large.
Practicing loving-kindness or compassion meditation is a way to stretch the “muscles” of kindness, caring and empathy toward everyone and to remember our common humanity. The key is to give your “compassion muscles” a regular workout by practicing regularly, just as you might any other skill. Doing so will help you cultivate more loving relationships, greater happiness and better health…and could noticeably reduce your chronic pain.
Ready to do it now? You can use my YouTube video below, which runs for less than 15 minutes. Once you know it by heart, you can do it in your own time—and voice. To get started, just click on the video below, close your eyes and follow the prompts…
To learn more about meditation, see Bottom Line’s “Skeptics Guide to Meditation.”