Practicing Compassion

Piano. Reading. Yoga.

We learn to practice the skills that we value in life, but many think of compassion as a trait, not a skill. What if it isn’t? What if compassion is a muscle we can exercise and build? Who would then argue that we shouldn’t teach, exercise, cultivate compassion?

In a November 2009 broadcast of On Being, Krista Tippett interviewed Buddhist monk and neuroscientist Matthieu Ricard. He had this to say:

I mean, you cannot, in the same moment of thought, wish to do something good to someone or harm that person. So those are mutually incompatible like hot and cold water. So the more you will bring benevolence in your mind, at every of those moments there’s no space for hatred. It’s just very simple, but we don’t do that. We do exercise every morning 20 minutes to be fit. We don’t sit for 20 minutes to cultivate compassion. If we want to do so, our mind will change, our brain will change. What we are will change. So those are skills. They need to be, first, identified, then cultivated. What is good to learn chess, well, you have to practice and all that. In the same way, we all have thoughts of altruistic love. Who didn’t have that? But the common goal, we don’t cultivate that.

Do you learn to piano by playing 20 seconds every two weeks? It doesn’t work. So why, by what kind of mystery some of the most important quality of human beings will be optimal just because you wish so, doesn’t make any sense.


What are you doing to cultivate compassion?