Awareness & Mindfulness as Foundations of Compassion

The state of being mentally and emotionally sensitized to an object of suffering constitutes the first stepping stone of compassion as a process. This step has been called mindfulness, attentiveness, and resonance as well as awareness. While awareness is the starting point of compassion, many view it as an important part of every step in a compassionate life, because it is a method of training and practice in compassion.

Both awareness and mindfulness techniques are associated with contemplative and meditative practices of all types including Christian prayer and Buddhist meditation. Without extensive practice, most people cannot keep their minds free of extraneous, largely random thoughts for more than a few seconds unless their minds are actively engaged in a task. Awareness and mindfulness practice typically include exercises in keeping one’s mind from jumping from one thought to another, putting one in a meditative frame of mind.

Recent neurological research has demonstrated that people like Buddhist monks who meditate extensively have brain wave patterns associated with calm, peaceful states of mind. These states of extreme awareness and mindfulness have been found to be conducive to retaining a compassionate disposition. Consequently, training in cultivating compassion often includes awareness exercises as well.

The most popular and well known form of awareness development is the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. While mindfulness is not a prerequisite of compassion, it has been found to be very useful in mediation intended to facilitate or cultivate compassion.

Anyone trying to live a life of compassion learns that without mental preparation and practice, compassion-distracting thoughts and feelings can emerge. One such distraction is the so called compassion fatigue, commonly associated with failing to be self-compassionate while simultaneously serving others compassionately. Awareness or mindfulness meditation experiences help a compassion-oriented person from getting off course.

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