A study just published in May 2018 from the University of Wisconsin defines compassion as connecting with the suffering (of others and oneself) along with a genuine wish for freedom from suffering. The connection requires the courage to see the suffering rather than avoid or deny.
This study trained half the participants in a compassion meditation while the control group was trained in reappraisal training (which reviews past traumas to reduce negative emotional responses). Researchers tracked participants’ time looking at suffering vs. non-suffering as well as amygdala responses (a brain region involved in negative valence, arousal, and physiological responses typical of fear and anxiety states). The study found that those trained in compassion spent more time observing the suffering and had decreased amygdala responses compared to the reappraisal trained control group.
"Compassion meditation may shift habits of becoming overly distressed when we encounter another's pain," says Helen Weng, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. "The pattern of these findings -- an increase in looking at suffering while simultaneously down-regulating neural circuits associated with negative emotion -- is a winning combination that may be beneficial for a wide range of conditions including autism and social anxiety disorder in which gaze aversion and social discomfort are hallmark signs," Davidson adds.
In the practice of the Art of Ascension, the Compassion technique is taught in the beginner’s workshop as a key tool. One of the great things about using this tool is that you don’t have to understand all of the components of compassion, or figure out how to make it happen. You use the tool and compassion becomes one of the by-products of the practice.
Another aspect of the Art of Ascension Compassion technique (as with the other tools of Praise, Gratitude, and Love) is that it can be used all day long when you are going about your active life. So, Compassion can be cultivated whenever and wherever you are.
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