To cultivate compassion, let yourself sit in a centered and quiet way. In this traditional form of practice you will combine a repeated inner intention with visualization and the evocation of the feeling of compassion. As you first sit, breathe softly and feel your body, your heartbeat, the life within you. Feel how you treasure your own life, how you guard yourself in the face of your sorrows. After some time, bring to mind someone close to you whom you dearly love. Picture them and feel your natural caring for them. Notice how you hold them in your heart. Then let yourself be aware of their measure of sorrows, their suffering in life. Feel how your heart opens to wish them well, to extend comfort, to share in their pain and meet it with compassion. This is the natural response of the heart. Inwardly recite these phrases:
May you be held in compassion.
May your pain and sorrow be eased.
May you be at peace.
Continue reciting all the while you are holding that person in your heart. You can modify these phrases in any way that makes them true to your heart’s intention.
After a few minutes, turn your compassion toward yourself and the measure of sorrows you carry. Recite the same phrases:
May I be held in compassion.
May my pain and sorrow be eased.
May I be at peace.
After a time, begin to extend compassion to others your know. Picture loved ones, one after another. Hold the image of each in your heart, be aware of that person’s difficulties, and wish him or her well with the same phrases.
Then you can open your compassion further, a step at a time, to the suffering of your friends, to your neighbors, to your community, to all who suffer, to difficult people, to your enemies, and finally to the brotherhood and sisterhood of all beings. Sense your tenderhearted connection with all life and its creatures.
Work with compassion practice intuitively. At times it may feel difficult, as though you might be overwhelmed by the pain. Remember, you are not trying to “fix” the pain of the world, only to hold it with a compassionate heart. As you practice again and again, relax and be gentle. Breathe. Let your breath and heart rest naturally, as a center of compassion in the midst of the world.