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The importance of practicing Mindfulness and compassion together

The importance of practicing Mindfulness and compassion together

May 6, 2021

In the Buddhist tradition, Mindfulness and compassion are considered the two wings of the bird of wisdom , and it is thought that both are essential to be able to fly, so they are practiced together and reinforce each other.

To practice compassion, mindfulness is necessary, because we have to be able to become aware of one's own suffering and that of others, without judgment, attachment or rejection, to feel compassion towards the person who suffers.

But, above all, in order to carry out compassionate practices there is a need for minimum levels of attention obtained through the practice of mindfulness (García Campayo and Demarzo, 2015). Some of the first practices of compassion, such as mindfulness in compassionate breathing and compassionate body scan, pretend to be developing mindfulness and diminish the wandering of the mind, while associating with a compassionate attitude of base.


The link between mindfulness and compassion

It is known that the practice of mindfulness represented by the two main intervention protocols developed, the program Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) (Birnie et al, 2010) and the program Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) (Kuyken et al 2010), increase compassion. These programs do not specifically teach compassion, but implicit messages are sent about the importance of being compassionate and kind to oneself and their mental processes when talking about the compassionate attitude, an element that is core to the practice of mindfulness.

However, when the two interventions are associated, compassion therapy brings to mindfulness the conjugation with the mental processes that are behind the social commitment to try to make the world better, and the individual commitment to establish bonds of attachment and affection when we're suffering. Compassion is a broader concept than mindfulness and, in fact, studies point to the possibility that it may be a more effective treatment than mindfulness in some specific pathologies, such as depression (and in disorders related to self-image). , guilt and self-criticism), in addition to interventions focused on increasing psychological well-being in healthy subjects.


The differences between both practices

Focusing on the psychobiology that gives rise to mindfulness and compassion, there are great differences between both practices.

While the mental processes most linked to mindfulness generate a form of metacognition and regulation of attention related to the activity of the prefrontal middle regions and is therefore a recent evolutionary achievement (Siegel 2007), compassion is much more ancestral, and linked to the system of care of mammals. It involves substances such as oxytocin and other hormones related to the feeling of secure attachment, and also to neuronal systems and networks linked to love and affiliation (Klimecki et al 2013). The following table summarizes what each of the two therapies provides.

Table: Specific contributions of mindfulness and compassion therapies


MINDFULNESS COMPASSION
Ask the respondentWhat is the experience here and now?What do you need now to feel good and lessen suffering?
objectiveBecome aware of the real experience and accept its natureComfort the subject in the face of suffering, understanding that primary pain is inherent to human beings
Risk of each therapy if it does not balance with the otherAccepting the discomfort of the subject, forgetting their needs, focusing exclusively on experience. Eternal lack of motivation and ethical and compassionate attitude towards oneself and towards the worldDo not accept the experience of primary suffering (which is inevitable and inherent to human nature). Do not focus on the here and now, on the real nature of things, and focus exclusively on looking to feel better in the future

In conclusion

The experience of self-pity may seem paradoxical: On the one hand, present suffering is experienced with acceptance, but at the same time it is intended to diminish future suffering .


Both objectives are not incompatible, but complementary: the first (the acceptance mindfulness of the experience of suffering) is the recognition of human nature, and the second is the way forward (compassion) before the reality of the first.

Bibliographic references:

  • Birnie K, Speca M, Carlson LE. Exploring self-compassion and empathy in the context of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Stress and Health 2010; 26, 359-371.
  • García Campayo J, Demarzo M. Mindfulness manual. Curiosity and acceptance Barcelona: Siglantana, 2015.
  • Klimecki OM, Leiberg S, Lamm C, Singer T. Functional neural plasticity and associated changes in positive affect after compassion training.Cereb Cortex 2013; 23: 1552-61.
  • Kuyken W, Watkins E, Holden E, White K, Taylor RS, Byford S, et al. How does mindfulness-based cognitive therapy work? Behavior Research and Therapy 2010; 48, 1105-1112.
  • Siegel D. The mindful brain. New York: Norton, 2007.

The Practice of Mindfulness and Compassion | Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, 2012.10.14 (May 2021).


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