Compassion Meditation

Difficulty: Moderate | Frequency: 1x/day | Duration: 30 mins
(5 member ratings)

Time Required

30 minutes a day for two weeks.

How to Do It

This exercise draws on a guided meditation created by researcher Helen Weng and her colleagues at the Center for Healthy Minds (CHM) at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Dr. Weng called this meditation a “compassion meditation,” though a similar kind of meditation is also referred to as a “loving-kindness meditation.”

We recommend listening to audio of this guided meditation in the player below; you can also download it from the CHM's website. We have included a script of this meditation to help you follow it yourself or teach it to others. In brackets are the lengths of the pauses in the original guided meditation, to give you a sense of how much time to allot to each step.

Settling

Please settle into a comfortable position and allow yourself to relax.

Take a deep breath and release. [2 seconds] For a few moments, just focus on your breath and clear your mind of worries. Notice when you are breathing in … and breathing out. Let yourself experience and be aware of the sensations of breathing. [10 seconds]

Loving-kindness & Compassion for a Loved One

Picture someone who is close to you, someone toward whom you feel a great amount of love. Notice how this love feels in your heart.

Notice the sensations around your heart. Perhaps you feel a sensation of warmth, openness, and tenderness. [10 seconds]

Continue breathing, and focus on these feelings as you visualize your loved one. As you breathe out, imagine that you are extending a golden light that holds your warm feelings from the center of your heart. Imagine that the golden light reaches out to your loved one, bringing him or her peace and happiness. At the same time, silently recite these phrases. 

May you have happiness.

May you be free from suffering.

May you experience joy and ease.

May you have happiness.

May you be free from suffering.

May you experience joy and ease.

[1 minute]

As you silently repeat these phrases, remember to extend the golden light to your loved one from your heart. Feel with all your heart that you wish your loved one happiness and freedom from suffering.

Compassion for a Loved One

Now think of a time when this person was suffering. Maybe they experienced an illness, an injury, or a difficult time in a relationship. [15 seconds]

Notice how you feel when you think of his or her suffering. How does your heart feel? Do the sensations change? Do you continue to feel warmth, openness and tenderness? Are there other sensations, perhaps an aching sensation? [10 seconds]

Continue to visualize your loved one as you breathe.  Imagine that you are extending the golden light from your heart to your loved one, and that the golden light is easing his or her suffering. Extend this light out to them during your exhalation, with the strong heartfelt wish that they be free from his or her suffering. Recite silently to him or her:

May you be free from this suffering.

May you have joy and happiness.

May you be free from this suffering.

May you have joy and happiness.

[1 minute]

Notice how this feels in your heart. What happened to your heart? Did the sensations change? Did you continue to feel warmth, openness and tenderness? Were there other sensations, an aching sensation perhaps? Did you have a wish to take away the other’s suffering?  [30 seconds]

Compassion for Self

Contemplate a time when you have suffered yourself. Perhaps you experienced a conflict with someone you care about, or did not succeed in something you wanted, or were physically ill. [15 seconds]

Notice how you feel when you think of your suffering. How does your heart feel? Do you continue to feel warmth, openness, and tenderness? Are there other sensations, perhaps an aching sensation? [10 seconds]

Just as we wish for our loved one’s suffering to end, we wish that our own suffering would end. We may also envision our own pain and suffering leaving us so that we may experience happiness.

Continue to visualize yourself as you breathe. Imagine that the golden light emanating from your heart is easing your suffering. With each exhalation, feel the light emanating within you, with the strong heartfelt wish that you be free from your suffering. Silently recite to yourself:

May I be free from this suffering.

May I have joy and happiness.

May I be free from this suffering.

May I have joy and happiness.

[2 minutes]

Again, notice how this feels in your heart. What kind of sensations did you feel? Did they change from when you were envisioning your own suffering? How is this feeling different from when you wished your loved one’s suffering to be relieved? Did you feel warmth, openness and tenderness? Were there other sensations such as pressure? Did you have a wish to take away your own suffering? [30 seconds]

Compassion for a Neutral Person

Now visualize someone you neither like nor dislike—someone you may see in your everyday life, such as a classmate with whom you are not familiar, a bus driver, or a stranger you pass on the street. [5 seconds]

Although you are not familiar with this person, think of how this person may suffer in his or her own life. This person may also have conflicts with loved ones, or struggled with an addiction, or may have suffered illness. Imagine a situation in which this person may have suffered. [30 seconds]

Notice your heart center. Does it feel different? Do you feel more warmth, openness and tenderness? Are there other sensations, perhaps an aching sensation? How does your heart feel different from when you were envisioning your own or a loved one’s suffering?  [10 seconds]

Continue to visualize this person as you breathe. Imagine that you are extending the golden light from your heart to them, and that the golden light is easing his or her suffering. Extend this light out to them during your exhalation, with the strong heartfelt wish that he or she be free from suffering. See if this wish can be as strong as the wish for your own or a loved one’s suffering to be relieved.  Silently recite to him or her:

May you be free from this suffering.

May you have joy and happiness.

May you be free from this suffering.

May you have joy and happiness.

[2 minutes]

Again, notice how this feels in your heart. Did the sensations change from when you were envisioning this person’s suffering? Did you continue to feel warmth, openness and tenderness? Were there other sensations? Did you have a wish to take away this person’s suffering? How were these feelings different from when you were wishing to take away your own or a loved one’s suffering? [30 seconds]

Compassion for an Enemy

Now visualize someone with whom you have difficulty in your life. This may be a parent or child with whom you disagree, an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, a roommate with whom you had an argument, or a co-worker with whom you do not get along. [5 seconds]

Although you may have negative feelings towards this person, think of how this person has suffered in his or her own life. This person has also had conflicts with loved ones, or has dealt with failures, or may have suffered illness. Think of a situation in which this person may have suffered. [30 seconds]

Notice your heart center. Does it feel different? Do you feel more warmth, openness and tenderness? Are there other sensations, perhaps an aching sensation? How does your heart feel different from when you were envisioning your own or a loved one’s suffering? [10 seconds]

Continue to visualize this person as you breathe. Imagine that you are extending the golden light from your heart to him or her, and that the golden light is easing his or her suffering. Extend this light out to him or her during your exhalation, with the strong heartfelt wish that he or she be free from suffering. See if this wish can be as strong as the wish for your own or a loved one’s suffering to be relieved. Silently recite to him or her:

May you be free from this suffering.

May you have joy and happiness

May you be free from this suffering.

May you have joy and happiness.

[1 minute]

If you have difficulty in wishing for this person’s suffering to be relieved, you may think of a positive interaction you have had with this person that can help you in wishing them joy and happiness. Perhaps there were times when you got along, laughed together, or worked well together on an assignment. Continue to silently recite:

May you be free from this suffering.

May you have joy and happiness.

[2 minutes]

Again, notice how this feels in your heart. Did the sensations change? Did you feel warmth, openness and tenderness? How were these feelings different from when you were wishing for your own or a loved one’s suffering to end? Were there other sensations, perhaps a tightness in the chest? Did you have a wish to take away this person’s suffering? [30 seconds]

Compassion for All Beings

Now that we are almost at the end of this meditation, let’s end with wish for all other beings’ suffering to be relieved. Just as I wish to have peace, happiness, and to be free from suffering, so do all beings. [10 seconds]

Now bask in the joy of this open-hearted wish to ease the suffering of all people and how this attempt brings joy, happiness, and compassion in your heart at this very moment.

You have now finished this compassion meditation session.

Difficulty: Moderate | Frequency: 1x/day | Duration: 30 mins
(5 member ratings)

Why You Should Try It

Having compassion means that you want others to be free from suffering and you have the urge to help end their suffering. It is not only vital to a kind and just society but also, research suggests, a path to better health and stronger relationships.

Yet cultivating compassion for others—and yourself—can sometimes feel like an emotionally taxing and demanding task. This exercise walks you through a meditation grounded in simple techniques—paying attention to your breath and guided imagery—to help you nurture compassion toward a loved one, yourself, a neutral person, and even an enemy.

Difficulty: Moderate | Frequency: 1x/day | Duration: 30 mins
(5 member ratings)

Evidence That It Works

Weng, H. Y., Fox, A. S., Shackman, A. J., Stodola, D. E., Caldwell, J. Z., Olson, M. C.,Rogers, G. M., and Davidson, R. J. (2013). Compassion training alters altruism and neural responses to sufferingPsychological Science, 24(7), 1171-1180.

Study participants received either this compassion meditation training or a training aimed at mitigating negative emotion by helping people think differently about a negative event. Participants who completed two weeks of the compassion training demonstrated more altruism—they gave more money to a victim of unfair treatment. This altruistic behavior is a strong marker of compassion.

What’s more, the people who received the compassion training showed different brain activity in response to pictures of suffering: Their brains showed greater activity in regions known to be involved in understanding the suffering of others, regulating emotions, and experiencing positive feelings in response to a reward or goal. In this case, suggest the researchers, that goal was alleviating the suffering of someone in need.

Difficulty: Moderate | Frequency: 1x/day | Duration: 30 mins
(5 member ratings)

Why It Works

This meditation fosters feelings of compassion and concern for others by training people to notice suffering and strive to alleviate it, while at the same time giving people the emotional resources to not feel overwhelmed by the distress caused by that suffering. The researchers who used this compassion meditation in their work argue that the care for others emphasized by the compassion training may have caused participants to see suffering not as a threat to their own well-being but as an opportunity to reap the psychological rewards from achieving an important goal—namely, connecting with someone else and making that person feel better.

By first extending compassion to a loved one and to the self, it becomes easier to extend that same compassion to others, even those you may not like. Extending compassion to people you dislike can help to reduce feelings of hostility and resentment and may lead to improvements in a strained relationship. With practice, this meditation can help bring more peace, joy, and connection to one’s own life and to the lives of others.

Difficulty: Moderate | Frequency: 1x/day | Duration: 30 mins
(5 member ratings)

Sources

Helen Weng, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco
Center for Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Difficulty: Moderate | Frequency: 1x/day | Duration: 30 mins
(5 member ratings)

For More

Difficulty: Moderate | Frequency: 1x/day | Duration: 30 mins
(5 member ratings)

Do you bring compassion to your romantic relationship? Take our Compassionate Love quiz to find out: 

Completion Status

Comments & Reviews

  1. TeeJay Garcia (Hop Studios)
    TeeJay Garcia (Hop Studios)
    July 14, 2015

  2. Ronaldo Battaglini
    Ronaldo Battaglini
    June 18, 2015

    Certainly this is not a one-time-doing practice. Like forgiveness practices it evolves step-by-step and sometimes is hard to learn how to have good wishs for those you don't have too much empathy or had any troubles, but I do believe with time the rocks will become crumbles and our hearts will become lightier and full of love.

  3. Christine Holt
    Christine Holt
    June 16, 2015

  4. Isolde de Groen
    Isolde de Groen
    May 29, 2015

    Great to have a loving-kindness meditation! I enjoyed doing it, and will definetely practise this again. Will maybe try an other audio though, the text in this one was a bit too repetative.

  5. Jason Marsh
    Jason Marsh
    March 31, 2015

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