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Excerpted from Cultivating Compassion by Jeffrey Hopkins. Copyright © 2001 by Jeffrey Hopkins. Excerpted by permission of Random House, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Meditation means familiarize with, get used to, become a habit."

  Jeffrey Hopkins, Cultivating Compassion, Part 2

Unskilled meditators, based on what is indeed an overpoweringly deep experience during a session of meditation, sometimes cannot face that they so easily fall back into old habits. Some even make the outrageous claim that the desire or the hatred that arises outside of or even during meditation is spiritually driven, somehow consistent with their new insights. However, the reversion to familiar patterns needs to be recognized as just what it is: we're used to our old ways and slip back into them, perhaps even more powerfully now that we have, through meditation, gained a more focused mind. Such reversion shows only that we need a sense of humor and more meditation.

The Tibetan word for meditation is sgom pa (pronounced "gom pa"). In a play on words, it's said that meditation (sgom pa) means familiarization (goms pa), both s's being unpronounced. Thus, meditation means familiarize with, get used to, become a habit. You are seeking to regularize the practice so that it has a chance to affect everyday behavior, and to accomplish this, short periods of meditation are much better than long ones. The reason is that an intensity of purpose can be retained throughout a short session. When you do a long period of meditation without intensity, you're getting accustomed to—habituating yourself to—dullness. So, frequent short periods of cultivation are best.

There are very few people who have cultivated compassion so strongly in former lives that, when they sit down to cultivate it in this life, the meditation flows like a stream, with no obstruction at all.

Even if we are drawn to the meditation, we extend compassion to our friends easily and to people toward whom we are neutral not so easily, but when we get to the people we dislike, the meditation becomes knotty. Essentially, we fake it. The only way it can become genuine and spontaneous is through training—through getting used to it.

Part of developing familiarity is learning to realize as consciously as possible how the attitude we are cultivating seems to disagree with the present drift of our minds. If we merely placed a superficial overlay of thought on top of our actual feelings, we would not transform them but repress them. Repression doesn't work. What we avoid comes out in some other way and becomes the very thing that ruins the chance to make the perspective we are cultivating spontaneous. We have to face what we dislike. Often, however, we practice our dislikes so strongly that we cannot set them aside even for a moment. Many of us have a strained relationship with our parents, but there was a time when Mommy and Daddy were the greatest things in the whole universe. What keeps us from remembering them like that even for a few moments? The continual destructive thoughts that we habitually direct toward them.

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