First Presbyterian Church of Santa Rosa

    A Simple Practice for Loving God and Our Neighbors

    In just a few minutes a day, we can train our brains to be more compassionate.


    by Rev. Emily Stockert

    The world can be overwhelming sometimes. When there’s no shortage of bad news and bad attitudes, I’m tempted to hole up in my house and never come out again. I know I’m not alone. There’s lots of us who want to make the world a better place, but when the problems feel too big to tackle, simply giving up has some appeal.

    As a matter of fact, when staying positive gets hard…why not just let yourself go fully negative?

    Of course, even if it’s tempting, we all know that sliding into negative thinking isn’t the right thing to do. That’s why I found it so hopeful to learn that in just a few minutes a day we can literally train our brains to be more compassionate. Not only that, but training our brains to be more compassionate actually helps us to act more compassionately in the world.

    In 2013, researchers from the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that adults can be trained to be more compassionate. The researchers’ work, published by Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, found that training adults in compassion can result in greater altruistic behavior and related changes in neural systems underlying compassion.

    The researchers trained young adults in a style of compassion meditation that included methods for developing “loving kindness” or compassion towards themselves and for others. The participants practiced this compassion meditation for 30 minutes a day for 2 weeks. The researchers found that compassion could be practiced and developed similar to the way an athlete might improve strength with weight training. Participants who did the compassion mediation were more likely to respond to encountering situations of suffering with compassion, more likely to behave altruistically, and showed changes in brain structure in areas associated with empathy, emotional regulation, and positive emotions. Participants were more able to learn to regulate their emotions so that they could approach people’s suffering with caring and wanting to help rather than turning away and were more able to regulate their own emotions in response to witnessing the suffering of others.

    If you are interested in practicing the secular Buddhist meditation that the researchers used, you can find it here. If you are interested in a specifically Christian version of compassion meditation, you can find one here.

    When the problems of the world seem overwhelming, it’s a great hope to know that we are capable of bringing forth more compassion into the world. For practicing Christians, our greatest commandment is to love God with all heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Regularly doing a compassion meditation is a simple way to strengthen and practice our love of God, neighbor and self.

    Published on August 28, 2019


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