"Turning the inner eye outward" activates the brain area responsible for empathy and improves our ability to read the facial expressions of others.
PROBLEM: Reading people's emotional expressions when they're more nuanced than an emoticon can be difficult, particularly for people with autism or depression. The ability to accurately gauge the feelings of others, however, is
crucial to our ability to empathize and connect with them.
METHODOLOGY: A team at Emory University developed and tested a form of meditation called Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT). While secular in nature, the program is derived from the logong, or "mind training" tradition of Tibertan Buddhism. The purpose of the meditation is to refocus thoughts and behaviors from being "self-centered" to "other-centered" through eight steps:
(1) Developing attention and stability of mind through focused attention training; (2) cultivating insight into the nature of mental experience; (3) cultivating self-compassion; (4) developing equanimity; (5) developing appreciation and gratitude; (6) developing affection and empathy; (7) realizing aspirational compassion; and (8) realizing active compassion.
For eight weeks, 13 subjects were randomly assigned to weekly meetings where they participated in instruction, guided meditation, and group discussions. They also completed CBCT meditation on their own. The eight control subjects participated in health discussion classes that covered mind-body topics but did not include any meditation.