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Receiving Compassion and Generating Your Compassionate Self

An excerpt from Overcoming Destructive Anger by Bernard Golden, PhD.

This is an exercise I have practiced with clients that is based on the principles identified by Paul Gilbert.

First, search your mind for any examples of compassion that you’ve ever experienced or observed. These may come from real-life experience or from movies, books, or the news. You may also draw on examples from religious or spiritual leaders. Perhaps you envision the Dalai Lama, or Yoda, the Jedi Master in Star Wars known for his legendary wisdom, or a most loving and forgiving God. You may even recall compassionate animals or characters from cartoons or comic strips.

Try to identify individuals or characters who have demonstrated, in the most intense way, the qualities that reflect compassion. For example, I remember my seventh- grade social studies teacher, who made time to meet with students after school to discuss classwork, politics, or any concerns we had. I remember him most for his gentleness, openness, and nonjudgmental attitude. I also recall a movie character that, to my mind, is one of the most compassionate people depicted on film. Atticus Finch, played by Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, exuded consistent and overriding compassion for his children, for those around him, and especially for the person he represented so well in court, a black man accused of rape.

Now, find a place where you can sit without being disturbed. Gently close your eyes if it makes you more comfortable.

Imagine yourself seated in a circle with all of the people, characters, or entities that you’ve identified. Slowly look around the entire group, paying special attention to each member’s facial expression.

Notice the warmth in their eyes or the relaxation in their faces. Observe their postures and general demeanors. For each one, identify the specific aspect of compassion that led you to include him or her in the group. Perhaps it’s kindness, wisdom, confidence, nonjudgment, or a sense of connection you feel to them.

Now, imagine your compassionate self as described in the previous exercise. Savor this experience for a few moments, once again noticing your posture, facial expression, and what it feels like in your body when you are compassionate. Especially note your breathing and what it feels like in your chest.

Redirect your attention to the members of your group and picture them showing compassion toward you. Mindfully imagine receiving compassion as each participant might express it. They may show compassion simply in their facial expressions and posture or through their words. Note the sounds of their voices. Perhaps you picture them coming over to you and demonstrating compassion through a hug or a handshake.

Imagine their compassion as positive energy directed at you and merging with the compassionate energy of your compassionate self. Imagine yourself taking in compassionate energy with every inhalation of breath. Feel this capacity for compassion permeating your core, around your heart, in your mind, and throughout your body. Be attentive to making their compassion a part of who you are and who you wish to become. Sit and savor the experience.

Just sit for a moment, sensing the calmness, warmth, and empowerment flow through your body. This is what it feels like to exude compassion and connect with your compassionate self. You’ve evoked the part of you that’s capable of kindness, empathy, sympathy, wisdom, and a powerful connection with yourself and others. Savor this experience for several minutes. Then slowly open your eyes.

This excerpt is taken from Overcoming Destructive Anger by Bernard Golden, PhD. Published by Johns Hopkins University Press © 2016.  Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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