In Balance — Cultivating Compassion

June 30, 2017

By Susan Johnston

It seems the current social and political climate has left many people a bit more on edge lately. Divides seem to be getting more pronounced, leaving people feeling angry and frustrated no matter what side of the fence they fall on.

For many, the current situation may feel hopeless, but it as a great opportunity for personal, as well as social growth. This is a perfect opportunity to use this time of unrest to cultivate compassion in oneself and the community.

One of the best ways to open the heart and quiet the mind is through the practice of meditation. This practice is essential to allow oneself to feel compassion.

But how do we learn how to meditate when we are already feeling so overwhelmed?

Acupuncture can be an excellent teacher. Acupuncture treatments put the mind in the alpha state, a meditative consciousness, without the recipient having to “do” anything. A treatment can teach your body and mind how to relax and be open to a greater awareness.

Each time you receive a treatment your body is able to experience and practice entering the alpha state naturally, bringing balance to the body, quieting the mind, and opening the heart. It is a wonderful and simple way to begin your journey into cultivating compassion.

Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun and director of the Gampo Abbey, offers an excellent meditation practice to become more open and compassionate.

First, sit in meditation focusing on your breath. As thoughts and feelings come up, recognize them without judgment. If you feel angry, breathe the anger in, allowing it to fill you with the awareness that many others are also feeling angry. As you exhale, allow yourself to release the anger and instead, send out calm compassion and happiness to all who may be feeling anger.

This can be applied for any emotion that may arise. You can choose what you wish to send out in the world to help yourself and others heal.

There is no right or wrong when practicing this way so try not to get hung up on being perfect. More importantly, make this meditation practice something you strive to do each day, if only for five minutes. You will be doing something positive both for yourself and for your community. The practice will help open your heart to yourself and others, thus cultivating your compassion.

The more you practice being aware of the times when you are triggered by situations in your life, the less you will be thrown off course. You will learn to recognize that you, or others around you, are also being triggered. Instead of reacting, you will slow down, let go, and move forward with a clear mind and open heart.

This work isn’t easy. As your heart opens and you feel greater compassion for yourself and others, many feelings may arise. Make sure to acknowledge those feelings without judgment. Remember, it is a practice, and some days may be easier than others. It can sometimes feel a bit scary to allow yourself to become open in this way but it is essential for healing both oneself and our community.

Compassion is a powerful tool to better understand oneself and those around us. As our understanding grows, we have the power to meet in a neutral place and have meaningful discussions. We are more open to the ideas of others that may differ from our own. Only when we meet in this place can meaningful change and transformation begin.

Susan Johnston, L.Ac., works as an acupuncturist at Milwaukee Community Acupuncture, a local clinic dedicated to providing affordable and accessible acupuncture to those in the community and beyond. For more information about Milwaukee Community Acupuncture please visit

Disclaimer: the information provided in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or care.

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