Developing compassion

Some meditation practices, such as compassion-focused meditation, are aimed at equipping us with the ability to cultivate new fields of thought. Rather than simply observing unfolding thought processes, we can cultivate new mind- body, thought-feeling fields of activity. I may wish to be a more compassionate person, paying attention to others (listening with fascination), having empathic responses, and taking intelligent action to help—the components of compassion

(Atkins and Parker 2012). By rehearsing compassion toward myself, toward my loved ones, toward those I have difficulty with, and all humankind, I begin to tread into existence new paths of thought and feeling that have neurophysiological reality too (Neff and Germer 2013; Salzberg 2011). The brain develops new ways of working as a result of these practices and the person becomes more compassionate (see Gilbert 2013 for an extensive treatment of this perspective).

Several contributors refer to the extent to which meditation may bring us closer to others. Guy Claxton talks about how, through meditation practice, altruism can emerge because self-protection and enhancement are no longer so powerful in separating us from others. The natural motivations we have to altruism and to building strong, close relationships, normally inhibited by selfprotection and self-enhancement (the vigilance processes Carmody describes), are free to be expressed. The choice that stable attention to the unfurling of those processes provides the space for altruism and reaching out. The practice of loving kindness meditation (or compassion meditation) is intended to directly promote stronger connection and altruism in interactions with others.

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