For most of us, our minds have a tendency to “wander.” That is, we are not able to keep our focus on one topic for very long before moving on to another one.
Research shows that mindfulness practice, in which we pay attention to the present moment in a curious, non judgmental way, increases our ability to focus for longer periods of time.
But there are other kinds of meditative techniques that can also help us increase focus.
Here are some exciting results from a new study from Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education:
Practicing compassion meditation for between 15-30 minutes a day will lead to decreased mind-wandering. Not only that. When your mind does wander, it will go to pleasant topics rather than unpleasant ones!
Of course, the study says, mind wandering isn’t always bad. In fact it can help us to have new insights. But in our modern world in which we have so many things we have to deal with, there is too much mind wandering. This leaves us feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
Compassion can be defined as an “awareness of suffering, sympathetic concern, and a wish too see the relief of that suffering, and a responsiveness or readiness to help relieve that suffering” (James Doty, MD, Stanford University).
Here is a compassion meditation you can try. Don’t force yourself to feel something. Be natural and stay true to yourself.
*Sit comfortably. Relax and close your eyes, or lower your eyes and keep a soft gaze.
*Think of a person you care for deeply, or someone who inspires you. Use your own words to wish that person well. You might say something like: “May you always be safe and free from suffering. May you be happy and well.”
*Then you may extend your compassion for someone you don’t know well, a neutral person, someone you see on a daily basis or occasionally, such as your postman or the checkout person at the grocery store. Wish that person well.
*Finally, wish yourself well: “May I always be safe and protected. May I be free from harm. May I be blessed.” Use whatever words are appropriate and feel natural for you.
*Send your blessings to the world. If there are particular places you have read about, certain populations you wish you could help, think particularly of them.
*Finally, after you’ve spent some time working with compassion meditation, if you feel so inclined you may want to try and feel compassion for—or send blessings to—even those who have hurt you or have hurt others. At their deepest level, they are suffering humans who, although they may have done terrible things, are sentient beings like the rest of us.
Note: Be careful not to take on too much. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the suffering of others, remember to switch the focus to caring for yourself.
“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”–Thomas Merton
“Compassion is not religious business, it is human business. It is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability. It is essential for human survival.”-His Holiness the Dalai Lama