Compassionate intention setting for ourselves and for others, more and more evidence indicates has many health benefits. Leading a life bereft of values and virtues to aspire for has often been cited as a cause of much discontent. The allure of financial rewards, approval and position are often a source of anguish, frustration and ill health. While succumbing to the prospect of rewards in any sphere of endeavor is in itself usual, balancing the aspirations and attempts for material gains with efforts that garner a richer and more satisfying inner life can have many health benefits.
Compassionate intention setting is an ancient Tibetan meditation practice in which one contemplates ones deeper aspirations so that they may inform our intentions and motivations. The actual exercise of intention setting, as pointed out below is best accomplished by asking oneself questions that enable an honest and compassionate review of our deepest values and aspirations. While framing these questions sounds simple, basing them on compassion so as to engender the proper mind-body milieu is perhaps not that easy.
Also, one could ask if we all have an innate sense of compassion to call upon. Fortunately, yes, say many. On being asked what compassion is, the Dalai Lama has this to say, ” Genuine compassion is based on a clear acceptance or recognition that others, like oneself, want happiness and have the right to overcome suffering. On that basis one develops concern about the welfare of others, irrespective of one’s attitude to oneself. That is compassion.” Unfortunately, compassion is easily misunderstood. Compassion is not pity and it is not blind.
One could easily set the intention of robbing a bank but that would not (this columnist believes) be an activity that accumulates merit or for that matter health benefits! There is one prerequisite for gainful intention setting, that of compassion. Compassion for oneself as well as the heartfelt desire to ease the pain and suffering of others. Victor Frankl survived the holocaust and despite immense pain set a path of resilience and fortitude that was generated by innate compassion. There is gathering evidence that inculcating this virtue prolongs life as well as augers many health benefits like reduced episodes of illness and an improved immune response.
The exercise of compassionate intention setting
Begin by adopting a posture and environs that you are comfortable with. Being away from the usual distractions and demands of daily life is good, and hence times like the early morning have been cited by many as being a proper setting for this exercise. Breathe comfortably for a few minutes and ask yourself the two following questions:
What is it that I value deeply?
What in the depth of my heart do I wish for myself, my loved ones and for the world?
Spend 10 -15 minutes, if you can, contemplating these questions.
While objective research on the benefits of the exercise of intention setting is meager, it is claimed by many that using true compassion to set the tone for searching self inquiry not only generates more compassion but provides the motivation and the means to lead a life centered on personal and common good.
The health benefits of such an exercise appear to include:
- An enhanced ability to handle physical pain
- Resilience in the face of difficult circumstances
- Improved immune function
- Greater longevity
- Reduced number of episodes of exacerbations of chronic illness
There is increasing evidence, also, that the frequent practice of compassionate intention setting leads to a greater sense of calm and the ability to withstand disruptive feelings and impulses without resorting to maladaptive responses.
Contemplative self inquiry are well known elements of therapeutic techniques such as Morito therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Practices of this sort, though, have met with opposition by groups who believe that there isn’t enough evidence that such methods work for improving health and wellness. Fortunately, however, more and more people are discovering the benefits of living a life centered on compassion coupled with rigorous self inquiry.