LOS ALTOS, Calif., March 21, 2013 — For most people, it probably seemed like a pretty insignificant coincidence (if anyone even noticed). For me it was proof positive of the remarkable influence for good included in human consciousness.
I was sitting in a breakout session a couple weeks ago with about 50 or 60 others at the “Practicing Mindfulness & Compassion” conference hosted by the U.C. Berkeley-based Greater Good Science Center (GGSC). Immediately adjacent to us were three or four other breakout sessions, with only the thinnest of walls separating us. The concrete floor, high ceiling and massive windows throughout the converted assembly plant we were meeting in only served to amplify all the discussions taking place.
At one point our group leader, Dr. Paul Gilbert, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Derby in England, took us through a “guided meditation” where we were asked to visualize our “critical self.” Although our group was completely silent during this time (after all, we were meditating), I couldn’t help but notice the chattering and laughing going on in the rooms around us.
This was followed by a brief discussion of our impressions: What did the “critical self” feel like, what did it look like and so on.
Dr. Gilbert then asked us to spend some time thinking about our “compassionate self.” This was when something extraordinary happened.
“What did that feel like? What did it look like? What did you notice?” asked Dr. Gilbert. After listening to a few responses, I raised my hand.
“I noticed that for the first time in almost an hour this entire building was completely silent.”
Although this may not have been exactly what Dr. Gilbert was looking for, I went on say that it seemed to me that by embracing a compassionate frame of mind, giving up any sense of judgment, remorse, guilt, anger, fear, we were able to quiet not only our own thoughts but instill quietness for many others as well, most noticeably those in the surrounding break-out sessions.
Was this a coincidence? A classic case of positive thinking or mind over matter? I don’t think so. I’ve always felt that whatever sense of mental or physical peace we might experience isn’t the result of our getting a whole bunch of individual minds to be in sync but, instead, is a natural response to the intentions of a singular divine Mind, a Mind that, in this instance, enabled us to see in others, consciously or not, what we were beginning to see in ourselves.
In other words, compassion begets compassion, which an increasing number of scientific studies show leads to healthy minds, bodies, and societies, not to mention quiet conference centers.
Earlier in the day I had a chance to chat with world-renowned meditation teacher and best-selling author, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, about this. In response to my question about the source of compassion he said, “It comes from the realization of our interconnectedness.” Like the right hand naturally reaching out to remove a sliver lodged in the left, compassion is a natural, inevitable and, I might add, divinely inspired inclination.
Even more than a desire to relieve the suffering of others, compassion is born of an innate recognition that we are all embraced in a universal and unconditional love. Although all too often this recognition lies buried beneath the stress of circumstance, this doesn’t mean it’s beyond our capacity to discover, uncover, and benefit from.
All it takes is a willingness to listen and the humility to respond.
Eric Nelson is a Christian Science practitioner, whose articles on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.
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