A Practice to Support Someone Who is SufferingMar 18, 2023
Supporting someone who is suffering can be lonely, exhausting and disheartening. Here is a compassion practice to help ease some of the stress and anxiety often experienced by both sufferers and their supporters.
There are moments in our life when we may feel helpless in the face of another person's suffering. But there are ways in which we can offer support to both the sufferer and ourselves during trying times.
Meditation is a powerful practice that can help develop mental wellbeing, reduce stress, and cultivate inner peace. Compassion meditation is a specific type of meditation that focuses on cultivating lovingkindness, compassion, joy and equanimity towards oneself and others. This compassion meditation is based on the principles of loving-kindness and invites us to consider the needs of a person who is suffering, as well as our own needs as their supporter, and then to send an intention for those needs to be met.
Studies have shown that compassion meditation practices can increase feelings of empathy and kindness towards oneself and others, and decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress. Additionally, regular practice of compassion meditation has been linked to improvements in overall well-being and the ability to regulate one's emotions. This practice can be particularly comforting in these moments when there’s nothing we can necessarily “do” but we can cultivate a compassionate presence which may alleviate suffering in other ways.
Beginning the Practice
To begin the compassion meditation practice, find a comfortable, alert, yet relaxed seated posture, and gently allow the eyes to be downcast or closed. Begin by resting the attention on the sensation of breathing, following the full duration of the in-breath and out-breath just as it naturally comes to you. Pay particular attention to the out-breath and invite a relaxing sigh, noticing how your breath nourishes your body as you inhale and soothes your body as you exhale.
Allow the breath to find its natural pace and continue to feel the sensations of breathing as you inhale and exhale. You can place a hand over your heart as a reminder for this practice to bring in a sense of loving awareness to whatever your experience may be.
Inviting Love and Kindness
On the in-breaths, you can invite a word like “love”, “compassion” or “healing”. You can also invite warmth or light on the inhales, and just give yourself whatever it is that you need in this moment. Engage in this practice by simply inhaling whatever it is that you need most in this moment and then simply exhale.
Next, call to mind someone that you may wish to extend a helping hand. This could be someone that you love or someone that is struggling in some way and needs compassion. See them clearly in your mind's eye.
Sending Love and Compassion
Bring particular attention to your out-breaths and on the out-breath exhale and send whatever it is that they need most in their lives to them. Pay attention to both the in-breath and out-breath equally, breathing in whatever it is that you need most in this moment and breathing out whatever it is that they need most in this moment. Breathe in healing, breathe out healing, breathe in happiness, breathe out happiness.
Connecting with Love and Kindness
Connect with this gentle rocking flow that you're cultivating within you, and between you and this person that you have called to mind and abide here. If it is helpful for you, pay more attention to yourself or them, whatever you feel you need most in this moment.
Closing the Practice
When you're ready, bring this practice to a close by gently opening your eyes and bringing attention to your visual field. Take a moment to notice any changes in how you feel or in your perception of the world around you.
Compassion meditation is a powerful practice that can help to cultivate love, kindness, and compassion towards oneself and others. It is a practice that can be done anywhere, anytime, and for any length of time. With regular practice, you can experience the many benefits of compassion-based meditation, and this practice can be particularly helpful as a way to support someone who is suffering. So, make time for yourself today, and try out this practice to experience the positive effects that it can have on your well-being.
Michael Apollo is the founder of the Mindful Society Global Institute. Prior to founding MSGI in 2014, he was the Program Director of Mindfulness at the University of Toronto. He is a researcher, clinician and certified mindfulness facilitator in MBSR and MBCT.
Condon, P., Desbordes, G., Miller, W. B., & DeSteno, D. (2013). Meditation increases compassionate responses to suffering. Psychological Science, 24(10), 2125-2127.
Kirby, J. N., Tellegen, C. L., & Steindl, S. R. (2017). A systematic review and meta-analysis of compassion-based interventions: Current state of knowledge and future directions. Behavior Therapy, 48(6), 778-792.
Mascaro, J. S., Rilling, J. K., Negi, L. T., & Raison, C. L. (2013). Compassion meditation enhances empathic accuracy and related neural activity. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8(1), 48-55.
Hofmann, S. G., Grossman, P., & Hinton, D. E. (2011). Loving-kindness and compassion meditation: Potential for psychological interventions. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(7), 1126-1132.
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