Number two – Compassion

In the curriculum of the 8-week Mindfulness Stress Reduction course Jon Kabat-Zinn details the seven attitudinal foundations of mindfulness. Throughout the course we spend time exploring how these can be weaved into our practice and our lives. Interestingly, neither kindness nor compassion are listed explicitly within these seven.

The Inner Critic

Kindness to ourselves (and perhaps even to others) is not always something that comes easily. We are often very self-critical and berate ourselves for the simplest things. This “inner critic” is not hard wired, we were not born with it, we have in fact been slowly cultivating it for many years. It has been developed through all of our experiences and interactions with those we have learned from such as parents and teachers (let’s not blame them though as they learned from someone too!).

Freedom of Choice

So how does mindfulness practice help to develop kindness and compassion? To start with, nothing in the course is forced upon anyone. There is freedom of choice of activity, choice to move if we need to during meditations and choice to adapt, ignore and change any of the guidance during practice if it doesn’t feel right. This freedom to choose what is best for us in any moment is a kindness to ourselves and is interwoven throughout the course.

Difficult Thoughts

In addition to this we are learning a more skilful relationship to our thoughts. Some thoughts we have are at destructive or at least unhelpful, and so by cultivating awareness of which thoughts help us and which do not benefit us in any way, we learn that we don’t have to engage with the latter. We can let go of them.

The Side Effect

And coming back to the attitudinal foundations of mindfulness themselves, we learn to practice without judgement, with patience and to allow things to be exactly as they are. When we cultivate these qualities through practice and in our day to day lives, we cannot help but foster kindness to ourselves and perhaps further afield. It is not something that we need to strive for. It is a beautiful side effect of mindfulness practice and something we could probably all benefit from more of.