Compassionate Exchange

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This Integral Life Practice module was lovingly produced for Integral Life members.

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“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Compassionate Exchange is a way to move freely through all perspectives available to you, instead of staying chronically identified with only one. In this meditative practice, we consciously and deliberately exchange self for other.

Most creatures tend to move towards pleasure and away from pain. We move instinctually to defend the self from discomfort and harm, and to meet the needs and fulfill the wants of the self. In Compassionate Exchange, we dissolve the armor that builds up around this limited, survival-based orientation.

In fact, we reverse the self’s usual orientation and breathe in suffering, and then breathe out the pleasurable release of suffering. We reclaim the tremendous energy and freedom that result from reversing the automatic tendency of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.

The “I” moves into awareness of and care for “you,” and “us,” and “them,” and “all beings,” and then back to “me”—the self, and then rests in the Self of the self—the Witness in which all of them arise.

Compassionate Exchange Practice Instructions

Compassionate Exchange can be practiced for any length of time.

You can listen to the guided meditation above, which lasts approximately 20 minutes, or you can practice on your own for lengths of time varying from just two or three minutes to an hour or more.

Begin by bringing attention and feeling to the heart and breathing to and from the heart. Recall a memory that evokes the experience of care and compassion.

Then, picture someone dear to you and breathe this person’s distress and suffering into your heart.

Then, as you exhale, breathe out the essence of freedom from suffering, and direct it towards this person.

Continue to breathe. Each time you breathe in, take in the suffering and distress of more and more people. Each time you breathe out, breathe out the essence of release and freedom from suffering and direct it towards this larger group of people.

After several breaths, expand your view to include all beings. Take in their suffering and distress.

Breathe out the essence of release and freedom from suffering, and direct it out towards all beings.

Then focus on one being among all beings: you. Take in your own suffering and distress, and breathe out the essence of freedom of suffering, directing it towards yourself. From this free perspective you naturally embrace and affirm your vitality and humanity.

As the final step in the practice of Compassionate Exchange, notice that you and all the people you have pictured and all the suffering and freedom from suffering are arising in the awareness that is witnessing all of this, and this is who you truly are.

Notice that this Witness is present not just in you but also in all others. Their Witness is exactly the same as the Witness you are. There is only One Witness. Rest in that natural, open, effortless expanse of Awareness.