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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.

"What is important over the long run is a steady progression."

  Jeffrey Hopkins, Cultivating Compassion, Part 3

Thus, it's important to keep in mind that developing compassion takes a tremendous amount of training of the mind with incremental progress. Although in meditation there are often sudden leaps to truly grand feelings, they are temporary. What is important over the long run is a steady progression.

A good way to facilitate this progress is through discussing and sharing obstacles and successes with others. I often conduct group sessions in which I lead people through the series of meditations starting with equanimity and culminating in generating compassion. We do a particular exercise and then I'll ask, "What new feelings did you have?" From someone else's description of success, you may intuit how to break through a blockage about a person toward whom you can't even think, "That person wants happiness and doesn't want suffering."

By hearing about and thus imagining another's success, it increases your own progress. If you are bored with trying to cultivate compassion toward people who are neutral to you—who have neither helped nor harmed you—it can be most helpful and inspiring to hear from another person who is having just the opposite experience: "Wow! It was amazing to extend the recognition of wanting happiness and not wanting suffering to so-and-so at work." Furthermore, when you, as a participant, talk about your own blocks, the very fact that you bring up a block as a difficult situation opens your mind to moving toward a solution. Talking out the obstacles usually doesn't remove them, but it does start a movement toward amelioration.

Occasionally you might even get stuck in a stupor and wonder, "What am I doing here? What is it I was doing?" It might take time for you to remember, "Oh, I was supposed to be cultivating compassion." Whenever you find that your mind has wandered, bring it gently back to the topic. Don't be ashamed, but also don't react with pride or fancy that somehow your mind decided that the meditation was not worthwhile and deliberately wandered either to another topic or into blankness. Just turn your mind back to the topic.

If you are worried about adding a regular practice to your already hectic routine, rest assured that meditating on compassion need not take up hours of your day. When I first went to Dharamsala, India, in 1972, the Dalai Lama was teaching the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, and in the midst of the series of lectures he conducted a refuge ceremony that subsequently required all of us to take refuge in Buddha, his doctrine, and the spiritual community six times a day through thoughtful repetition of a formula: "I go for refuge to Buddha, his doctrine, and the spiritual community until I am enlightened. Through the merit of my charity, ethics, patience, effort, concentration, and wisdom, may I achieve Buddhahood for the sake of all beings."

Initially I thought, "How can I possibly take refuge six times a day? I don't have enough time." However, refuge is very fast; it's ridiculous to think I wouldn't have time for it. Of course I had time for it. It's just that I wasn't used to it. It takes all of fifteen seconds. And six times—you could even do six in a row, and it would still only take a minute and a half! Anyone can find three minutes here and there throughout the day to practice compassion.

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