Humans are hardwired with survival strategies. In any given situation, our brains are designed to scan for trouble and think about what might go wrong.
This strategy works to help us avoid real danger, however; in the absence of danger, this type of thinking limits us from celebrating the good moments as we begin to lean toward anxiety and mistrust. Life is short on earth, and negative, fearful thoughts restrict us from enjoying the fullness of our lives.
What we practice grows stronger...
What do you want to grow?
SHAUNA SHAPIRO, Ph.D., is a professor at Santa Clara University, a clinical psychologist, and an internationally recognized expert in mindfulness. Her Ted Talk helps us understand the power of mindfulness. She shares how mindfulness can help us positively change our brains and lives. More importantly, the practice of Kindness Mindfulness (meditation) is essential.
As Shauna mentions in her talk, “We can sculpt and strengthen our synaptic connections based on repeated practice. When you look at the brains of meditators, the areas related to attention, learning, and compassion grow bigger and stronger. It’s called cortical thickening. The growth of new neurons in response to repeated practice. What we practice grows stronger”.
It takes practice to release our anxiety and replace it with kindness and compassion.
Research has suggested that loving-kindness meditation can activate the brain areas involved in emotional processing and empathy to boost a sense of positivity and reduce negativity.
The practice of Loving Kindness Meditation
Each way of practicing this meditation is based on a different Buddhist tradition but holds the same value. During the meditation, you generate kind intentions toward yourself and others. Here is an example from Wise Mind Body.
Instructions for Loving-Kindness Meditation (Metta)
The following kindness meditation is a basic set of instructions from the book "The Issue at Hand" by Gil Fronsdal, written as a gift to the community. It is freely given. The words you repeat are a little different than in the above video. The meaning and effect are the same. Choose what resonates with you.
Sit in a comfortable and relaxed manner. Take two or three deep breaths with slow, long, and complete exhalations. Let go of any concerns or preoccupations. For a few minutes, feel or imagine the breath moving through the center of your chest - in the area of your heart.
This meditation is first practiced toward oneself since we often have difficulty loving others without first loving ourselves. Sitting quietly, mentally repeat slowly the following or similar phrases:
• May I be happy.
• May I be well.
• May I be safe.
• May I be peaceful and at ease.
While you say these phrases, allow yourself to sink into the intentions they express. Loving-kindness meditation consists primarily of connecting to the intention of wishing ourselves or others happiness. However, if feelings of warmth, friendliness, or love arise in the body or mind, connect to them, allowing them to grow as you repeat the phrases. As an aid to the meditation, you might hold an image of yourself in your mind's eye. This helps reinforce the intentions expressed in the phrases.
After a period of directing loving-kindness toward yourself, bring to mind a friend or someone in your life who has deeply cared for you. Then slowly repeat phrases of loving-kindness toward them:
• May you be happy.
• May you be well.
• May you be safe
• May you be peaceful and at ease.
As you say these phrases, again sink into their heartfelt meaning. If any feelings of loving-kindness arise, connect the feelings with the phrases so that the feelings may become stronger as you repeat the words.
As you continue the meditation, you can bring to mind other friends, neighbours, acquaintances, strangers, animals, and finally, people you have difficulty with. You can either use the exact phrases, repeating them again and again, or create phrases that better represent the loving-kindness you feel toward these beings.
Sometimes, seemingly opposite feelings, such as anger, grief, or sadness, may arise during loving-kindness meditation. Take these as signs that your heart is softening, revealing what is held there. You can either shift to mindfulness practice or you can—with whatever patience, acceptance, and kindness you can muster for such feelings—direct loving-kindness toward them.
Above all, remember that there is no need to judge yourself for having these feelings.
Lee Pryke, Intuitive Life Coach