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Diane Dreher's Tao of Inner Peace Blog

Cultivating Compassion

The Dalai Lama says that


"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.

Without them humanity cannot survive."


Have you been rushing around, too busy to feel compassion for the people around you? These days, when dealing with the Covid pandemic, divisive politics, and economic uncertainty, our capacity for compassion can be sabotaged by stress.


How does this happen? Let's go back to a classic experiment at Princeton Theological Seminary. Years ago, on a cold day in December, a group of ministerial students was assigned to give an impromptu speech. The students met individually with the researcher, who gave them their speech topics: either their future career or the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). Then they were told to go to the lab next door to record their talk. For some students, the researcher added another factor: telling them to hurry because they were already running late.


One by one, the ministerial students went to the lab on this cold December day, walking through an alley to the next building, where a young man was slumped in a doorway, coughing and groaning. Some students stopped to ask if he needed help; some even took him inside and tried to get medical help. Others ignored him and walked on by.


What made the difference? Not whether the students were going to talk about their future careers or the Good Samaritan, but whether they were in a hurry--rushing because they were running late. The researchers even found that "on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way" (Darley & Batson, 1973, p. 107). These well-meaning ministerial students had been hijacked by the stress reaction.


Chronic stress undermines our compassion, our health, and our relationships, but we can transcend it by adding brief compassion breaks to our days. Taking a few moments to release all the toxic stress opens our hearts to a deep source of peace and renewal.


For your own good and the greater good of our world, you can begin taking compassion breaks. Here's how. For the next few moments, turn off your phone or computer, and take time to just BE.


  • Close your eyes, take a deep breath and slowly release it, breathing more slowly and deeply than usual.
  • Focus on your heart as you breathe in, saying silently to yourself: "breathe in calm."
  • As you breathe out, say silently, "breathe out peace."
  • Feel your shoulders relax and tension slowly melting away as you focus on your breathing.


After a few moments, open your eyes as you open your heart to greater peace and compassion.





His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. Quote from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/d/dalai_lama.html


Darley, J. M. & Batson, C. D. (1973). "From Jerusalem to Jericho": A study of situation and dispositional variables in helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27, 100-108.


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