I received this card from my brother and sister-in-law recently. I admit that it made me cry. Like so many, I have not seen family members in person for a long time. Even in the best conditions, we can experience feelings of loneliness. In a pandemic where many of us are isolated from our family and friends, the heaviness can feel unbearable some days.
The Compassion Circle practice is a way, even for a moment, to remind ourselves that even though we are experiencing loneliness or isolation, we are not actually alone. There are people who love us, care for us, and appreciate us. This practice is one of recognizing and remembering. We recognize how we feel without pushing it away and remember those people who care for us, even if they are no longer alive.
This is a visualization practice, so it can be helpful to have your eyes closed after you have read through the practice. If that is not comfortable, then soften your gaze so to limit any distractions like a glowing screen. If you have a picture of a loved one or friend, feel free to hold it or have it in front of you.
Wherever you are, find a comfortable posture.
Take a couple of deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth allowing your body to relax into your space, into your posture.
When you feel settled into your space, breath naturally. There is no need to control the breath.
Place a hand or hands on the center of your chest. Feel your heart beating. Feel the rise and fall of your chest as you breathe. Notice how this area feels – open, tight, numb. Notice without judgment or expectation to feel a certain way. Stay here for awhile if that’s supportive.
Now, in your mind’s eye, see yourself standing somewhere that feels safe. It can be anywhere like your bedroom, in nature or a favorite vacation spot. It can be nowhere or simply where you are right now.
Take a moment to think of people (and/or pets) that love you, encourage you, make you feel cared about or understood. It can be anyone, even someone you have not met like an inspirational author or a loved one who has passed away, or a spiritual figure if that resonates with you. Silently call out their names and visualize them forming a circle around you.
As you breathe in, imagine their kindness, their care, their love embracing you like a hug. As you breathe out, let your body relax, and release any heaviness of the heart to be held by this compassionate circle. Do this a few times. Allow yourself to feel the warmth and tenderness of the imagined embrace from these caring people.
Take a deep breath in and out. Open your eyes. Take a moment to notice any shifts in your body from before you did this brief meditation.
After the practice: It is okay if you do not feel any shift immediately. Perhaps later in the day you will notice a shift. The intention of the practice is to be kind to your suffering, not to deny it. Sometimes, remembering even for a moment that there are others out there who care for us can make the suffering bearable. After I did this practice, I dreamt that night about my late father who was a reliable support system for me.
You can return to this meditation anytime you need the support of another. You can adjust it to meet the specific need at the time. Perhaps, you need to hear words of encouragement. Stand in the compassion circle and listen to what these carers offer you.
May these words of 13th century Persian poet, Rumi, comfort you – If you love someone, you are always joined with them – in joy, in absence, in solitude, in strife.
If you would like to explore compassion practice further, please go to Engaged Mindfulness Series – Cultivating Compassion Talks 3-6.