‘Mindfulness’ is a word that’s being thrown around a lot lately and for good reason: it is essential to our health, our state of happiness and my favorite, it actually makes us KINDer.
Mindfulness literally cultivates compassion. How? Let’s explore!
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is an ancient practice. It’s our ability to be fully present in the here and now. It’s observing the present moment and our thoughts without judgement.
Recent studies have shown that mindfulness is good for our hearts, brains, immune response, and physiological pain. It can help reduce the effects of cell aging, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, addiction, and much more. Additionally, mindfulness reduces anxiety, treats and prevents depression, improves cognition and attention span, as well as focus and concentration. It can also help us cope with aches and pains, enhance our sex lives, improve decision making, creativity and it can even make us smarter!
When we practice mindfulness on a regular basis, we train our mind to observe our own thoughts, feelings, and sensations with an objective view and without any judgement.
This can lead to a better mood, equanimity, resilience, body image, and an increased ability to feel empathy and compassion for ourselves and others. And this is the part that I am most interested in: Mindfulness has the potential to make us a KINDer species!
It has recently been proven that mindfulness has the power to fundamentally alter how we treat others around us. A recent study conducted by David DeSteno, Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts shows that even a brief meditation intervention made participants 50% more compassionate.
As DeSteno writes, “one of the ways meditation helps foster compassion is by decreasing the ‘us/them’ distinctions that separate people from one another.” Additional research done by neuroscientists supports DeSteno’s findings that even minor training in mindfulness meditation can alter areas of the brain responsible for empathy.
Additionally, we can’t practice mindfulness without first being KIND to ourselves. In order to practice, you have to observe your thoughts without any judgment. You have to practice non-judgment towards your own mind so you have no choice but to be KIND to yourself. It’s that simple!
The development of self-compassion is seen as a key step in the ability to genuinely engage compassionately with others.
There are many ways to meditate or quiet your mind, but there are also meditations that target specific regions of the brain. In a study published in 2008 in the journal PLOS ONE, both experienced and non-experienced meditators who practiced Compassion Meditation, showed increased activity in the regions of their brain that are linked with empathy & compassion while meditating than when not meditating.
The Buddhists have known this fact for thousands of years. Compassion Meditation is an ancient practice that has been widely employed by Tibetan leaders (even today). They believe that Buddha’s original intent was to help people cultivate compassion.
They also believe “What you practice becomes stronger.” This wisdom has now been well documented by the science of neuroplasticity, which shows that our repeated experiences shape our brains.
Now you might ask, how does this Compassion Meditation work? Again, there is no one perfect answer! If you do a Google query, you will find many different and effective methods. This one is my favorite: Compassion Meditation.
John Kabat Zinn who is a well-known mediation teacher believes dwelling in compassion is dwelling in KINDness. Mindfulness (of any kind) cultivates the quality of the present moment which simplifies and helps us uncover the KINDness that’s already in us.
Tip: We are always breathing (assuming that we are alive) so breathing is an internal cue that we can always come back to when our mind wanders.
What happens during meditation somehow stays with us. If you infuse your attention with care and compassion, you don’t have to think it, you just live it.
As Buddha said: “We are what we think. With our thoughts, we make our world.”
Let’s make a KINDer world for ALL!