Mindful Compassion

Mindful Compassion: How the Science of Compassion Can Help You Understand Your Emotions, Live in the Present, and Connect Deeply with Others

Authors: Paul Gilbert and Choden (wiki link).
Publishing year: 2013.

Mindful Compassion offers a revolutionary approach for improving your life. Mixing the traditional techniques of mindfulness meditation with recent scientific discoveries about compassion and brain functioning, this book is aimed at the westerner, non-religious reader,  facing the challenges of our modern society.


Mindful Compassion is a self help book on mental well-being. It combines mindfulness ideas from Buddhist tradition with notions of compassion. It contains explanations and ideas originated in latest scientific research in the brain functioning and anatomy

The book starts by explaining the two different notions that are the cornerstone of this approach: mindfulness and compassion. It defines the notions and details the reasoning behind this approach.

About the Authors

Paul Gilbert is a clinical psychologist. He is known for developing the compassion focused therapy. Choden is a Buddhist monk in the Tibetan tradition. One of his focus is to teach mindfulness in a secular setting using insights from neuroscience.  

Together they write a book that is quite different from other books on the same subject.

Short overview

The book starts by explaining the Buddha’s story. It elaborates on the traditional Four Noble Truths. Furthermore, it points out how modern psychology can relate with this ideas.  

The book makes a very compelling description of how our brain has evolved to the current stage. How our mind is the product of a long evolutionary journey. As a result, we are the product of our conscious thoughts as much as our primeval emotions.

Next, it describes the emotional systems. And how they can go astray.

Couple holding hands with mindfulness compassion. sun and mountains in the background.
Compassion is seen as a way of healing ourselves and help others.


The book makes a long and detailed description of what compassion means. In the same time, it explains what it isn’t and how we often misunderstand it. This helps us understand how to approach and learn compassion.  

We have to see compassion as more than acknowledging suffering. Instead, and more importantly, we need to take action and alleviate it:

“Awakening compassion changes our relationship to ourselves and our world, and this makes all the difference.”


The subject of mindfulness is quite popular nowadays. This book makes an effort in explaining how we should understand mindfulness as part of our journey to become compassionate:

“It’s like a person sitting in a muddy pool; if she can just sit still the mud will gradually settle and the water will become clear. This will enable her to see into the depths of the water.”

Modern World

Our modern world puts a lot of pressure on us. We are goal oriented. The belief that we need to get further in our job. Or to be able to buy more things: a bigger house, the latest car; puts an incredible stress on our mental and emotional health:

“We are living in a world full of mind-created illusions.”

Neuroscience and Psychology

This book is grounded as much in science as is in traditional beliefs.  It offers a solid background in neuroscience and psychology:

“Compassion transforms the mind, but mindfulness provides the basis and stability for such change.”

Brain Science

According to Paul Gilbert we basically have two brains: and Old brain and a New brain. 

The Old brain has evolved long ago. Other animals have also evolved this part of the brain. It is the base of our emotions: fear, anxiety, anger, lust, joy. Furthermore, it is also the basis for our social motivation like belonging and sex.

The New brain is what makes us human. We use this part of the brain for planning and for dreaming. This is the basis for out self identity. It’s what allows us to reflect, imagine and create.

We can use the new brain capabilities temper or enhance our old brain tendencies. We can use the reasoning part of our new brain to fuel the fears and anxieties of our old brain. Unfortunately this is detrimental to our well-being.

Forest with Sun.
“Compassion transforms the mind …”

We should be using our new brain to put to rest, silence the old brain fears. This is book aims to help us make this shift:

“So when we look at the human brain, we can see that evolution has given rise to an extraordinarily complex but not that well put together organ”.

In the final part of the book we find a set of practices. They help us learn and cultivate mindful compassion.

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