As research in mindfulness-based therapies continues to develop, it becomes evident that mindfulness on its own may not be enough. Many say that for mindfulness to really work its magic, the cultivation of a certain level of kindness and compassion is also required.
When it comes to the therapeutic process, self-criticism, perfectionism and shame are just a few of the things that drive people to turn to coping behaviors like addiction, isolation and unhealthy eating habits. In the long run, of course, these maladaptive behaviors designed to avoid the pain of berating, beating oneself up and otherwise yielding to the harsh inner critic do more harm than good.
Luckily, cultivating compassion—for self and others—can help patients to better tolerate their harsh inner experiences and to learn to treat themselves gently in the face of suffering. Through a growing body of research, practices like LovingKindness meditations have even been shown to help to offset the negative effects of loneliness on the body.
The following five guided meditations are a great starting point for you or your patients in cultivating a more compassionate way of interacting with life’s challenges.
1. Sharon Salzberg’s LovingKindness Meditation
Sharon Salzberg has dedicated the last 45 five years to studying and practicing the cultivation of loving-kindness. As a college student, she traveled to India to learn to meditate and now, she is one of the foremost American teachers in mindfulness and compassion and has written and taught extensively on the topic.
The first portion of this video is a brief interview in which Salzberg shares a bit of background about the importance of compassion and mindfulness. You may listen or skip straight ahead to the meditation, which begins at 14:30.
2. Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion/LovingKindness Meditation
Kristin Neff is a pioneer in the field of self-compassion and the author of the seminal work on the topic, “Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.” She offers a number of guided meditations on her website, all of which are focused on increasing self-compassion and kindness. By extension, these practices can have a profound impact on the way we relate to others in our lives as well.
The self-compassion/loving-kindness meditation is just 20 minutes and may be a good place to start for the beginner. You may wish to check out some of the others on her list as well.
3. Jack Kornfield’s Self-Forgiveness Meditation
Jack Kornfield is another in a line up of iconic American meditation teachers who also happens to be a clinical psychologist.
Kornfield’s meditation on self-forgiveness is an incredibly soothing practice for those who struggle with regret, self-criticism, guilt or sorrow.
The meditation focuses on normalizing and acknowledging the inevitability of unintentionally inflicting pain on others and ourselves at some point in our lives. It makes space for and fosters deep kindness toward the self and the healing power of forgiveness.
4. Dennis Tirch’s Metta for Compassion-Focused Therapy Meditation
Dennis Tirch is a clinical psychologist and one of the world’s top teachers in compassion-focused therapy (CFT), an approach to alleviating human suffering that draws from evolutionary science, behavioral science, cognitive behavioral therapy, Buddhist psychology and neuroscience.
Metta is the Pali word for the Buddhist virtue of LovingKindness, and the principle upon which all of the meditations here are based. At just under 20 minutes, Tirch’s meditation asks that the practitioner extend both compassion to the self and others, a powerful practice that can help cultivate the ability to tolerate difficult feelings while fostering a sense of deep connection with others.
5. Tara Brach’s RAIN of Self-Compassion Meditation
Tara Brach is a clinical psychologist and another of America’s top teachers in the practice and application of mindfulness and compassion. Her books, “Radical Acceptance” and “True Refuge” are must-reads for those hoping to find peace in a world that is full of suffering and change.
Meditation is based on the four-step process Brach designed to help us stop being so hard on ourselves. Brach walks us calmly through the four steps: recognizing what’s going on; alllowing the experience to just be there, as it is; investigating with kindness; and being in natural awareness that is not fused with the observed experience.