As I shared at the end of January, one of the things I’m trying to do this year is develop practices that bring compassion closer to hand. One of these is a regular meditation practice, just 10 minutes per day. Over January I managed to averge 1 min per day.
Seeing that post, my friend Suzie suggested I use Lift, an app that helps build new habits by getting you to check in every day, with the added incentive of peer approval. So far my best efforts have gone in vain – managing only to maintain my 1 min per day average across February. Let’s hope March improves!
[Days 42-56: Practice]
Yesterday I was reflecting on how scepticism – the type based on keeping an open mind – was really about allowing ourselves to vulnerable.
When I started this study, one of the first sources to revisit was Brené Brown’s talk from TEDxHouston in 2010. There are so many insights that resonate for me in her talk, and must resonate for others – 7.6 million views – if you haven’t watched it, watch now.
What strikes me as relevant to scepticism are her comments on the mindset we bring to research. As a researcher she felt her role in studying phenomena was to control and predict, control and predict. And yet the power of inquiry comes from being open not closed. Open to new discoveries, open to the imperfections.
Revisiting her talk emphasises the singular importance of connection. Connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. She notes that people who feel worthy of connection have a strong sense of love and belonging – described as whole-hearted lives. They have the courage to tell the story of who they are with their whole heart, the courage to be imperfect. They connect because they are able to let go of who they think they should be and be seen for who they are. And they get that the practice of compassion first requires us to be kind to ourselves.
That a practice of compassions requires us first to be kind to ourselves is discussed in Karen Armstrong’s book also and something I’ll come back to.
But the other traits of whole-heartedness? The courage to be imperfect? To let myself be seen for not who I should be, but who I am? This is awkward. I thought in some ways I’d managed this, but it seems as though in trying to do this I swap one set of assumptions and identity for another. It’s that ungraspable truth that in trying to reach it, you push it further away*.
[Day 29 – Listening]
*Dog bites basketball, Chasing a greasy pig and Trying to catch vapour, Pushing opposing magnets – These were the best my Twitter plea elicited to describe this feeling. That I think there is a common way express this, and that’s it’s sitting out of reach in the back of my head, and yet the more I think about it the further away the word slips is unhelpful but wryly funny.
The purpose of this personal study into compassion is to:
develop a series of work, family and individual practices that bring compassion (and insight) closer to hand.
One of the first things I’ve tried to implement is a regular meditation practice, based on my readings and following Andy Puddicombe’s TED talk on Ten Minutes of Nothing. So (and here the graph speaks for itself) here’s my update on my daily minutes of meditation over January:
[Days 22-24: Practice]
Lynne Malcolm: In relation to the research centre you talk about how you might introduce interventions to increase compassion, to allow people to be more compassionate. How do you do that in a scientific way?
James Doty: Well the preliminary science shows a couple of things. One is that with even an intervention which is a compassion meditation practice as short as two weeks, it can have a significant effect on the levels of stress hormones and also on your immune system.
– ABC Radio National, All in the Mind: The Science of Compassion, Sunday 9th December 2012.
A desk in a noisy room, repetitive conversations, untidy rooms, deadlines, the click-click-click of social media, waiting for approvals, underlying worry about people I love. I know these things contribute to stress, and I know that when stressed I find the shortening pause between an action and my (often frustrated) reaction signals a lack of compassion.
Can meditation aid compassion? The quote above from the interview I listened to yesterday, as well as this clear and visual TED talk by Andy Puddicombe makes it clear that meditation can reduce stresses and help us to observe more clearly our reactions before we act.
Puddicombe’s talk was featured by TED this morning, accompanied by a blog post also describing recent the scientific support for meditation benefits. I’ve always struggled to set up an effective mediation practice, first taking a course in Transcendental Meditation in Year 11, only to set it as one of my New Year’s Resolutions again and again and have it evaporate by February. But 10 minutes of doing nothing each day? Perhaps that’s achievable?
[Day 2: Practice]