Wiring for Compassion
"The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all living beings, which are all part of one another and involved in one another."
- Thomas Merton
Matthieu Ricard, PhD, molecular geneticist, Tibetan monk and called the happiest man on the planet from fMRI scans recently shared this on why we want to practice compassion. He stated, “Our minds are like gardens and they will grow naturally, but if uncultivated they are influenced by the weather and whatever seeds are in the winds. Some will grow big and others shrivel and in the end we may not like the results.”
We don’t have to look to far to see the state of affairs on the planet that seeds of aggression, greed, hostility, and hatred have been blowing in the wind. These seeds have grown into many unwholesome manifestations such as bombings, shootings, rape, slaughtering, etc. However, we can, also, with gratitude turn to many practicing meditations like tonglen, loving-kindness, compassion and equanimity. Our genetics and body system are equipped with the material that when properly and precisely instructed have the potential, capacity and ability to override the lower brain centers responsible for hijacking the possibility for more humane behaviors.
Neuroscience is continuing to show significant results with meditation. In published studies with loving-kindness meditations (LKM), results show reductions in cortisol levels (stress hormone), increase in oxytocin secretion (bonding and trust hormone), lowering of heart rate and heart disease. Also, brain regions linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up on fMRI scans suggesting new neural wiring in action.
An important zone in the brain called the supramarginal gyrus where part of the mirror neuron system is situated, allows us to identify postures and gestures of other people. When this linking is unhindered from pathologies, we have the capacity to feel empathy. Our visceral organs have important neural pathways that link to these regions (we call it our gut instinct), therefore, informing us when we need to turn our attention toward ourselves or another with a compassionate heart.
Considering the unsettling circumstances this beautiful planet is being subjected to on a daily basis, may we strive to relieve her suffering and the causes. Considering the fear that is driving people to harm one another and to harm our animals, may we strive to relieve others and our suffering and the causes. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama reminds us, if we want to know happiness, practice compassion. If we want others to know happiness, practice compassion.
A Funny for the Broken Heart
Sherri Aikin is a Fellow of Integrative Medicine, Nurse Practitioner, Sex Counselor, Mindfulness Facilitator, and Life Coach.
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