Researchers often find that after several weeks of compassion meditation practice, people perform more acts of kindness and caring outside the lab, such as visiting a retirement home or telling a coworker what they appreciate about her. They also report more feelings of compassion toward suffering people. They act more kindly toward strangers. They become less subject to the “bystander effect,” whereby everyone assumes that someone else will step up and come to the aid of a stranger in need. They more readily offer an exhausted woman a chair, as occurred in a 2015 study at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. Good news, right?
I’m skeptical. Scientists, like humans generally, fall into the trap of looking for explanations that suit them best. Meditation may indeed do all that is claimed. But has research really demonstrated that fact?
The way these studies are usually conducted, they cannot rule out two alternative explanations for the effects attributed to meditation. One is a placebo response: People who practice compassion meditation might believe it makes them kinder, better people—and expectation makes it so. The other possible explanation is a desire to please the researchers: If volunteers guess what effect the scientists are looking for, they may consciously or unconsciously produce it. In either case, meditation itself wouldn’t be doing what researchers think it is.
These questions were running through my mind when I encountered a 2016 study on compassion meditation and generosity by researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In general, in compassion meditation, you focus on suffering individuals, then groups of suffering people, then all of suffering humanity. In each case, you express the wish that they be free from suffering. It has been a mystery what compassion meditation actually does to produce the compassionate behavior and thoughts. So when Colorado’s Yoni Ashar and his colleagues set out to “show how compassion meditation changes how we think and feel about suffering people”— which would presumably lead people to be more generous—their study design was unusually exacting.
Generosity wanes if people perceive the world as full of threats and looming scarcity rather than abundance and security.
They showed 200 participants fictional biographies and photographs of people in need. The volunteers rated the following: their feelings of warmth toward each suffering individual; how much distress they felt at the person’s situation; how much blame they felt the individual deserved for his plight; and how much the person would benefit from a donation.
The volunteers could then donate up to $1 to each of the sufferers. Contrary to the belief that distress makes people less generous by making them turn away from suffering to relieve their own discomfort, the researchers found that greater distress predicted greater generosity. But so did these factors: thinking the person was blameless; believing a donation would actually help; and feeling warmth toward the sufferer. Curiously, having values, interests, and demographic features in common didn’t make people more generous, the researchers reported in the journal Emotion.
That challenged a widespread idea that we’re more generous to People Like Us (PLUs). We might be. But if so, it’s because we feel greater warmth toward PLUs and are more likely to think they’re not to blame for their suffering, rather than because similarity directly triggers generosity.
For the compassion meditation part of the generosity study, 58 new participants listened to biographies of suffering people—an orphaned child, a cancer victim, a homeless veteran— and were asked how much of the $100 the researchers gave them they’d like to donate to the person whose story they just heard. Then the group was split in three: some listened again to one biography; others engaged in a guided compassion-meditation session every day for four weeks; the rest were given a placebo, a nasal spray they were told contained an empathy-increasing hormone (a.k.a. H2O).
The participants were asked again if they would like to donate up to $100 to the individual they most recently learned about. The meditators reported significantly more compassion (positive feelings toward those in need) than the “compassion placebo” group did, suggesting that this effect is a real, direct consequence of meditating. But the effect on generosity wasn’t straightforward. The meditating group did not make more generous donations after four weeks of daily compassion meditation than they had before—despite the increase in generosity-associated feelings. Ashar and his colleagues aren’t sure how to explain why feelings didn’t translate into behavior, but they find one ray of hope in the data: The meditators’ giving did not drop off as sharply as the other groups’ did (the familiar phenomenon of “donor fatigue”).
It’s surprising that fundamental questions about generosity—what thoughts and feelings trigger it?—are still unanswered. In a world of vast unmet needs, where figuring out how to bring out the best in people could go far to alleviate suffering, that’s a troubling knowledge gap. But researchers are making some headway. They are learning, for instance, that generosity does not seem to be an instinctive, default behavior: When experimenters gave one child three marbles and another just one, only one-third of the kids spontaneously evened things out, according to a 2015 report from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Perhaps generosity is an emotional or cognitive skill that must be learned. If so, it might explain this: Although three-year-olds in societies as different as urban California and hunter-gathering Aka shared treats that scientists gave them only one-third of the time (and became less likely to be generous through age seven), as they got older their generosity matched the norms of their culture—more evidence that generosity is a skill that one learns…or doesn’t.
It is certainly possible to absorb lessons for or against generosity, said Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith. But generosity wanes if people perceive the world as full of threats and looming scarcity rather than of abundance and security—one of the individual traits most predictive of individual generosity.
Smith’s research, along with similar research elsewhere, throws cold water on two commonly cited findings about generosity. One is that generous people are happier and healthier because they donate. Smith’s research suggests another explanation: Because generous people view the world as safe, secure, and abundant, their happiness might derive not from being generous but from a generally sunny outlook. A second myth: When people act generously, their brain’s reward circuitry becomes more active, therefore the very act of giving must make us feel good. Of course, it can. But a 2015 study by scientists at Caltech found a different explanation for reward circuits humming like crazy: They are furiously calculating whether to give and how good or bad they’ll feel about that decision.
Perhaps the strongest message from the science of generosity is that the more adversity someone has experienced, the more compassion she feels and the more generous she’s likely to be. I’m reminded of this every time I see someone who looks destitute drop a few coins into a panhandler’s cup while expensively dressed commuters rush past. That fits with Ashar’s conclusion that belief in the sufferer’s blamelessness and expecting a donation to make a difference predict generosity. Someone who knows what it is to suffer also knows how outside forces can land one in deep poverty through little fault of one’s own, and how wonderful it can be to have a dollar for a McDonald’s coffee.
This article also appeared in the August 2016 issue of Mindful magazine.
Did you know self-compassion is the new black? Last year it was mindfulness but this year, attending without judgment is out and compassion for you as an antidote to your perceived low self-worth, failure, or any other form of suffering is definitely in. This is perfect for those of us living in the west where we are so often sick with, as meditation teacher David Loy would say, our “sense of lack.” That loathing one might argue could be a result of our tendency to privilege the individual and his or her autonomy and accomplishments over the community and our interdependence. The idea that we can do everything ourselves and should is absurd. I mean, look around you. Do you have shelter and food? Did you build the former and grow the latter? Likely not, and even if you did where did you get the building materials, the seed, and tools? Our interdependence is always staring us in the face but we so easily miss it, focused on our self-importance, negative (“I’m so horrible”) or positive (“I’m so great”).
I have a secret I’m going to share with you that I tell the people who come to the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy groups I lead. You are not so special or so bad. I’m sorry. You are ordinary. I find that such a relief. Trying to live up to some unrealistic standard of who I should be and what I should accomplish is ultimately exhausting and demoralizing. Whose standard is it anyway? It just becomes a metaphorical stick with which we can beat ourselves when we don’t meet those expectations. On top of that, it is so easy to think that being nice to ourselves is weakness or wimpy. Pulling up our bootstraps, and maintaining a stiff upper lip are ingrained in our culture. Staying with the tough familiar is often much easier than changing the way we respond.
Pulling up our bootstraps, and maintaining a stiff upper lip are ingrained in our culture. Staying with the tough familiar is often much easier than changing the way we respond.
I once attended a self-compassion workshop and found myself critical and rejecting of the exercises, thinking, “This is a bunch of crap.” The idea of hugging myself or stroking my face, saying words like, “Soften, Soothe and Allow,” softening around the tense areas of body, “like around the edges of a pancake,” and putting my hand on my heart while recalling a difficulty made me squirm with dis-ease. I didn’t want to be like a pancake. I didn’t want to practice loving-kindness to myself, the people I don’t like, or all beings. An acquaintance and I were talking about it and she said she often jokingly substitutes, “May all beings be peaceful” with the phrase, “May all beings have a jelly donut.”
It took a while to figure out that what was underneath all of this discomfort and cynicism was the thought, “self-compassion is self-indulgence.” This was an interesting recognition and invoking curiosity about this reaction led to the awareness: I don’t like to be vulnerable or weak. Okay, so who does? But the reality is that we are all vulnerable creatures. In the words of a psychiatrist colleague of mine, “We are just little mammals and there are some things we should stay away from.” This is good advice for many situations, one of which is our harsh stance toward self. Ask yourself, “What is the impact of all that loathing, sense of lack, and self-criticism?”
So, this is where self-compassion and ultimately compassion for others comes in, because believe me, those expectations we have for ourselves usually have their counterpart in our expectations of others. Researcher and author Kristin Neff expresses self-compassion as being composed of three parts: “self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.” So mindfulness isn’t exactly out—it’s contained in the C word. Willem Kuyken et al (2010) found that MBCT treatment effects for depression are brought about by increased self-compassion and mindfulness as well as a separation of the link between reactive depressive thinking and bad outcomes for the illness. It then stands to reason that cultivating self-compassion may result in a happier, kinder you.
GOLDEN RULE ORGANIZATION, 719-221-9779 www.thegoldenrule.net
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Hello, Golden Rulers/Children of the Law of One! It’s that time of year again – the annual fundraiser for Children of the Law of One and Golden Rule Organization (CLO’s non-profit org). We appreciate your support in helping us maintain the good work started by Jon Peniel all those years ago – bringing hope, love, inspiration and liberation to the world.
Our mission is to keep the Lost Teachings of Atlantis, The Golden Rule Workbook and all the materials for self realization available. We’re excited to announce that The Lost Teachings is going into its 9th printing in English, and we also have versions in Portuguese and French which need to be printed (a big thank you to the translators!).We donate to schools, libraries and prisons, along with providing outreach counseling for victims of abuse. We maintain the websites, advertise the materials and provide free instruction of the techniques put forth in the books. We also maintain the property in the Rockies. In addition, we are planning to create a new conference/meeting center in Arizona. We have our eyes on a historical location in Mesa, AZ, which has hot springs on it. Buckhorn Baths has come onto the market – it would be a great spot, but needs lots of renovation. It’s near airports and useable year-round, so we’ll cross our fingers on that opportunity. There, we can do weekend retreats, Monk for a Month, LTA/GRO seminars and bring in educators and speakers from various disciplines and philosophies that are compatible with GRO.
This year’s goal is $5000, which will cover the costs of maintaining the Colorado property, printing and advertising.Your tax deductible donation helps us keep all of these worthy projects afloat. We really appreciate your support. No gift is too small or too big! Please, will you do your part for a good cause?
To show your support and pitch in using Paypal, send funds to email@example.com.
There’s also a click here to donate page: http://thegoldenrule.net/contribution.htm – just scroll down to the buttons. Checks & MO’s made out to Golden Rule are a simple way to contribute, as there are no extra fees taken. If you mail it to us, please put my name (Jewell Hill) on it, to make sure it gets to us. However, if a credit card is best for you, that’s great too! Just give us a call at 719-221-9779.
Remember your contribution is tax deductible! Note the IRS # for your records on the top of page.
Jewell Hill, Fundraising Coordinator, 719-221-9779
How many of you own the Tibetan Yoga DVDs? They’re an excellent way to tone your body, mind and energies! Our yoga is a blend of Kundalini, Hatha, Ashtanga and Bikram styles – the best of all of them. The 45 minute instructional takes you step by step through the inner and outer aspects of each pose and ‘move’, and the 20 minute workout dvd runs through the routine silently. Enjoy! You’ll find them under our products link.
Congratulations to Sarah James – winner of the free prize – Vibrational Sounds for Spiritual Development!
Sarah answered our contest question – what % of our brain function is powered by the subconscious, based on current expert opinions?
Answer: up to 98%! Wow! It seems boggling and unbelievable, yet this number has been around for decades. So, how much power does it have over your life? And if you have goals you’d like to achieve, how much more successful will you be when you harness the power of your subconscious to make your dreams come true? Self-hypnosis and meditation are well proven, tried and true methods to access your subconscious and enlist its magic for your desires.
Jon was an expert in the field of Psycho-Accustics – the effects of sound on consciousness. Our Vibrational Sounds lead you gently and clearly into a deep, relaxed, focused state of awareness in just 13 minutes. It’s like meditation on steroids! Have a hard time relaxing, focusing and winding down? Then these products are sent from above for you. Are you an experienced meditator, who wants to take it up to the next level? The Vibrational Sounds are for you! We have lots of wonderful titles, from Better Sleep, to Chakra Activation, to health topics to being a Dynamic, Successful person. Instant downloads make getting your tool kit for a new, better life easy and convenient. Here’s the link to our menu of meditation/goal topics.
Hope your day is love-ly!
Free Vibrational Sounds Self Hypnosis mp3! to the first person to answer this question correctly: What % does Jon mention that some experts now think our subconscious mind controls? Clue: It’s in chapter 11. Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck
Free Vibrational Sounds Self Hypnosis mp3 to the first person to answer this question correctly: What % does Jon mention that some experts now think our subconscious mind controls? Clue: It’s in chapter 11. Email us at: email@example.com. Good luck!
Sue McGreevey of MGH writes: “Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.” Until now, that is. The participants spent an average of 27 minutes per day practicing mindfulness exercises, and this is all it took to stimulate a major increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. McGreevey adds: “Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.”
“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” says Britta Hölzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. You can read more about the remarkable study by visiting Harvard.edu. If this is up your alley then you need to read this: “Listen As Sam Harris Explains How To Tame Your Mind (No Religion Required)”
SEE ALSO: Neuroscience Shows How Training In Compassion Meditation Makes Us More Altruistic
SEE ALSO: The Placebo-Nocebo Effect & Proof Of The Mind’s Explosive Healing, Curing Power
SEE ALSO: Bliss Of Letting Go: David Lynch Discusses Transcendental Meditation In New Doc
SEE ALSO: A Strong Back And A Soft Front: The Power, Beauty, Neuroscience, And Importance Of Compassion
This is a nice summary of the heart and soul of the Lost Teachings of Atlantis and the Children of the Law of One. How did your day go? Can you answer yes to any of these? We hope so! xoxo
One of Jon’s Favorite Practices – and mine too! Try it today, and let us know how it makes you feel. xoxo
Contemplation & Visualization
[Note: Do this exercise when you are not tired.]
Part of this mediation exercise involves feeling Unselfish Love for someone you don’t like. Some of the people you don’t like may deserve your feelings, they may be bad, or have done terrible things. This meditation technique is not intended to help you accept or “be alright with” the negative personality, lifestyle, or actions that some beings have created for themselves. Or to get you in the mental disposition to allow them back into your life. It is to get you to let go of them in an Unselfishly Loving manner, and also get you to relate to the essential being, the spiritual spark inside them, and still love & care for that. We can, and should have compassion for the spirits of those whose choices have led them into patterns of destruction and suffering. If we don’t, we are having a spiritual crisis ourselves. But we don’t want to personally accept those choices as “alright”.
To begin this visualization meditation, ask yourself the following questions – and answer them: “What is Unselfish Love?”; “What does it mean to be Unselfishly Loving?”; “Am I always Loving Unselfishly?” (and if the answer to that is no, think about the most recent situations in which you haven’t loved Unselfishly, and go on to the next question); “Why did I not Love Unselfishly in that situation?” Once you have thought about it, let go of the thought about why you didn’t Love Unselfishly. Why? The reason why you did not Love Unselfishly is not as important as making sure you will Love Unselfishly from now on. Now, again think about the situation in which you were not Unselfishly Loving. Completely visualize it again in your mind, only this time, visualize yourself being Unselfishly Loving, and visualize the results of that.
Finally, ask yourself “What should I be doing to express/manifest Unselfish Love all the time?”. Ask the Universal Spirit, the One, “What would you have me do?”. And do an affirmation like, “I am Unselfishly Loving”.
Start this meditation by “calling up” the feeling and concept of Unselfish Love. Do this by visualizing someone you have the most Unselfish Love for. It could be a child, parent, great friend, dog, relative, etc.. But if you have a teacher or a “personified ideal”, who Unselfishly Loves you also, that is who you should start with. Feel the Unselfish Love. Feel their Unselfish Love for you, and/or your Unselfish Love for them. While you are holding on to that feeling, think of someone you like but haven’t really felt Unselfish Love for. Feel Unselfish Love for the essence of that person – their spirit. Now think of someone you don’t like. Feel Unselfish Love for their spirit also. If they have done something hurtful, or harmful, that is inexcusable to you, be sure you only extend your feeling to their essence, their spirit, their Inner Being. Then expand your love to embrace everyone and everything you can conceive of.