The benefits of compassion meditation: an introduction

Compassion meditation is one of the most important Buddhist practices. There are hundreds of variants, many of which have yet to be scientifically described.

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Compassion meditation is a type of mindfulness practice to cultivate feelings of care, concern, and kindness towards oneself and others. They are particularly associated with Buddhism. Buddhist teachings and practices often emphasize the cultivation of compassion and loving-kindness. Here are a few examples of compassionate practices that are found in various schools of Buddhism:

  1. Metta Bhavana (Loving-kindness meditation): This practice involves repeating phrases of loving-kindness and well-wishes to oneself and others.
  2. Tonglen (Taking and sending): This practice involves visualizing taking in the suffering of others and sending out happiness and well-being to them.
  3. Karuna (Compassion): This practice involves actively working to alleviate the suffering of others and to promote their well-being.
  4. Bodhicitta (Awakened heart/mind): This practice involves a commitment to attaining enlightenment for the benefit of all beings and an aspiration to develop compassion and loving-kindness for all beings.
  5. Dana (Generosity): This practice involves giving to others, whether it be through donations of money, time, or resources.

Different schools and traditions may have their own specific practices, but the goal is often to cultivate compassion and loving-kindness for all beings.

Compassion practices have been found to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress and to increase feelings of well-being, happiness, and social connection. It has also been found to improve immune function and reduce pain.

Examples of scientific studies:

  1. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that a compassion meditation program effectively reduced anxiety, depression, and stress in a group of healthcare workers.
  2. The Journal of Happiness Studies published an article that found participation in a compassion meditation program was associated with increased feelings of well-being, happiness, and social connection.
  3. A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that compassion meditation effectively reduced pain in cancer patients.
  4. A paper in Psychoneuroendocrinology found that compassion meditation was associated with improved immune function in caregivers.

To practice compassion meditation, you can try the following steps:

  1. First, find a comfortable seated position and close your eyes.
  2. Bring to mind a person who is suffering. This could be someone you know personally, or it could be someone in the abstract.
  3. Silently repeat well-wishing phrases to yourself, such as “may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you live with ease.”
  4. As you repeat these phrases, try to bring to mind a feeling of care and concern for the person you have in mind.
  5. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the meditation.
  6. When you are ready, slowly open your eyes.

You can practice compassion meditation for as long as you like, but even a few minutes can be beneficial.


Self compassion, mindfulness and neuroticism

A significant overlap between self-compassion and neuroticism is offering new challenges and opportunities in meditation and mindfulness research.

Self compassion, mindfulness and neuroticism

Authors: Pfattheicher, S., Geiger, M., Hartung, J., Weiss, S., & Schindler, S

Year: 2017

Title: Old Wine in New Bottles? The Case of Self-compassion and Neuroticism

Summary: Self-compassion reflects an approach to relating to oneself with kindness in times of suffering. The self-compassion approach reflects the human ability to create better or worse mental conditions when dealing with our own problems. Psychologised self-compassion comprises three positive states; self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. In 2017 Pfattheicher and colleagues investigated the Self-Compassion Scale (SCS), the psychometric instrument designed to measure self-compassion. However, their research found, when approached from a personality perspective, there were strong similarities between the constructs of neuroticism and self-compassion (or lack of). If confirmed to be accurate, we may need to consider self-compassion and neuroticism as similar constructs.

“From this conceptual analysis and existing conclusive empirical evidence, we assumed that those who score high on measures of neuroticism score low on measures of self-compassion, and vice versa.”

Pfattheicher, S., Geiger, M., Hartung, J., Weiss, S., & Schindler, S

The original paper conceded that it was a preliminary investigation, and identifies several potential limitations. And not unsurprisingly, advocates for the uniqueness of self-compassion, Neff, Tóth‐Király and Colosimo published a response to the Pfattheicher et al. findings in 2018.1

Discussion: Now that the dust has settled somewhat, there is a general acceptance that congruence (overlaps) exist between psychometric profiles for low levels of neuroticism and high levels of self-compassion. The key point to consider is the extent of similarities and differences between the two constructs. The current uncertainty is only likely to be resolved by further research, in particular replication of the Pfattheicher et al. study. One puzzling aspect of this controversy is that a correlation between mindfulness and spiritual practices has been known about for many decades.2 Why this subject has become a contentious issue at this time if hard to explain.

From the science of meditation perspective, the potential relationship between self-compassion and neuroticism signposts some interesting problems and opportunities. There is already a body of research that indicates a solid relationship between the practice of mindfulness and reduction of neuroticism. It would be interesting to understand any similarities and differences in how mindfulness (in isolation from self-kindness and common humanity) and self-compassion meditate measures of neurotism. Similarly a comparative understanding of the relationships beween traditional (non-dual) meditation and medicalised meditation (mindfulness) could provide new scientific understandings.

However, progress in meditation research continues to be hampered by a lack of theoretical stability. In recent years several authoritative studies highlighed a failure to establish the operational cognitive components of mindfulness. Further, there is still a lack of construct validity confirming the precise natures of trait and state mindfulness. These limitations are a factor in the reliability of research utilising mindfulness from positivist perspectives. Further progress in developing the curative potential of meditation/mindfulness is linked to two long-standing questions; how did a spiritual practices become scientifically validated, and what has been lost or gained in the process?



1 Kandler, C., Pfattheicher, S., Geiger, M., Hartung, J., Weiss, S., & Schindler, S. (2017). Old wine in new bottles? The case of self–compassion and neuroticism. European Journal of Personality, 31(2), 160-169.

2 Neff, K. D., Tóth‐Király, I., & Colosimo, K. (2018). Self‐compassion is best measured as a global construct and is overlapping with but distinct from neuroticism: A response to Pfattheicher, Geiger, Hartung, Weiss, and Schindler (2017). European Journal of Personality, 32(4), 371-392.

3 Tartt, C., Deikman, A. J. (1991). Mindfulness, spiritual seeking and psychotherapy. The Journal, 23(1), 29.

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