I’m participating in MindSpace’s new six-week Insight (Vipassana) Meditation class, taught by Daryl Lynn Ross and Muriel Jaouich from True North Insight. The course is called Deepening Mindfulness Practice and it’s designed specifically for MBSR graduates. The insight meditation perspective is a compelling complement to the MBSR approach to mindfulness developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and so far the group is  provocative and enlightening.

Mindfulness 101

On the first Monday, Daryl returned to the fundamentals of mindfulness, defining it as a natural capacity of mind that involves paying attention to present-moment experiences in the mind and body (e.g., thoughts, sensations, emotions)–without trying to hold onto them, resist them, judge them, or avoid them. She added that mindfulness is naturally accepting, open, interested, and connected.

Mindfulness and Compassion

What interested me most about Monday’s class most was Daryl’s suggestion that compassion and mindfulness are one and the same. Many of us are drawn to meditation out of the desire to be free from mental habits that cause or exacerbate suffering. And the desire to be free of suffering is at the heart of compassion. Counterintuitively, compassion arises not from turning away from suffering but rather from turning towards–by paying attention and giving suffering (our own or others’) the gift of presence.  For example, have you ever noticed how, when you’re feeling down, the most wonderful thing is to have a friend be simply available and present? Even (and especially) if he or she doesn’t offer solutions or try to resolve our problem. Being mindful of our experience means offering compassion to ourselves in exactly the same way as that friend does.

How do we practice compassion?

Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield describes compassion= as “the quivering of the heart in the face of pain, ours and another’s.” We worked on cultivating the basic compassionate desire to be free of suffering by practicing “lovingkindness” meditation in our session on Sunday. Here’s what Daryl asked us to repeat silently, first to ourselves and then to various others:

May I/you be safe

May I/you be healthy

May I/you be free from suffering

May I/you be happy and at peace

May I/you live with ease

My experience of that meditation was a feeling of connectedness–to the others in the room, and to the individuals to whom I sent lovingkindness. I left the session with an open heart and an increased willingness to bear witness to discomfort or suffering.