Since Fall 2013, I’ve taught a workshop called Befriending Yourself. It’s an introduction to mindfulness meditation, which is gaining in popularity and being featured on CNN, Time, Huffington Post, and other media. Perhaps you saw Anderson Cooper all wired up to record his brain states during meditation!
Mindfulness has come of age as a means to reduce stress, and its wellness value is being developed at a number of university medical centers. So what does meditation have to do with “befriending yourself?” Or with a concept like compassion?
Increasingly, authors and teachers with expertise in meditation are emphasizing the quality of heart that we bring to our practice. We may sit or walk; use guided meditations or silence and bells; go on retreat or take mindful pauses during the day. It’s not the form that matters, but the “heart-set” that we have – a heart of acceptance toward ourselves and our present moment.
This may not always be easy, depending on our circumstances or preoccupations. And so, bringing compassion inside, to our own shortcomings and frustrations, makes a difference. I struggle with staying present when my uncooperative mind wants me to get busy and revise my workshop curriculum, rather than just “be” for a brief time. I hear the same report from past workshop attendees, often tinged with disappointment and self-criticism.
In the mindset of mindfulness, we begin again every time we wake up to the present, savor the moment, or breathe with the intention of centering and calming. At those moments, for me, compassion makes a difference. When I soften my heart toward my own flaws and shortcomings, in meditation or in life, something new happens. I connect with myself and with others. I can stop rushing, trying to “beat the clock.” And compassion draws me back to sustain my practice of meditation.
Here are some words that Befriending Yourself participants have shared, in an exercise to identify what compassion means for them. What does compassion mean to you? And in what way can you bring compassion to your own life and self, just as would to a dear friend?