Monday, June 30, 2008

Watering Seeds of Compassion

A few weeks ago, I went to a meeting at work, and a child psychologist (Charlotte Peterson) presented her experience of going to the Seeds of Compassion gathering in Seattle in April. The gathering hosted speakers from many faith communities (most notably, the Dalai Lama), as well as brain researchers who presented on the science of compassion and how the capacity for it can be developed in children.

Charlotte explained that 80% of the brain is developed by the time a child is 5 years old, and depending on the child's experiences, more growth will happen in different parts of the brain. If a child experiences compassion from caregivers and feels safe in their world, their pre-frontal lobe will grow more, and that is where our capacity for compassion develops. If a child experiences a lot of stress and anxiety because they do not feel safe (physically or emotionally), their hind-brain will develop more, and that is where our primitive, fight or flight responses come from. So, by the time a child is 5, their ability to feel compassion has been shaped considerably.

Although much is influenced by these early experiences, we still have the ability as adults to continue "growing our own brain" by choosing what experiences, sensory input and thoughts we engage in.

Brain researchers at the Seeds of Compassion gathering talked about the types of practices that physically change the brain by increasing its capacity for compassion. One of the suggestions was to have a meditative morning ritual like the one below.

A Precious Human Life

Every day, think as you wake up,
Today I am fortunate to have woken up.
I am alive, I have a precious human life.
I am not going to waste it.
I am going to use all my energies to develop myself,
To expand my heart out to others,
To achieve enlightenment for
The benefit of all beings.
I am going to have kind
Thoughts toward others.
I am not going to get angry,
Or think badly about others.
I am going to benefit others
As much as I can.

-The Dalia Lama

For more suggestions on cultivating compassion, check out

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