All of us have heard of meditation’s benefits – some may have even tried, found it hard, and concluded that “meditation is just not for me.” But before we throw away the cushion in despair, we have to find out what works for us. One easy way to start, evokes a very natural state in us: kindness. Loving-Kindness meditation focuses on developing feelings of goodwill and kindness toward others.
Recently research has helped push meditation from a niche practice to a lifestyle. Today, Generation X meditates to rise above the competition, while Millennials are using it as a team-strengthening exercise.
Mindfulness didn’t go mainstream until 1979, when Jon Kabat-Zinn, a PhD in molecular biology, introduced meditation as a stress-reduction technique.
Today you will find meditation rooms in airports and companies like Aetna, Ford, General Mills, the US military, sports teams, Wall Street and even the US Congress. Schools are using it to improve behavior, attention, and lower stress.
1 Science based
Barbara Frederickson (UNC) et al found that practicing 7 weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement and awe. These emotions increased resources (such as life purpose, social support, and decreased illness), which predicted an increased life-satisfaction and reduced symptoms of depression.
2 Practical benefits
Research shows that Loving Kindness Meditation’s benefits, range from well-being, relief from illness and improved emotional intelligence. Additionally metta meditation increases positive emotions & decreases negative ones.
3 True and lasting happiness
Loving kindness practice cultivates true happiness and compassion toward others. The Buddha called such a path: the “liberation of the heart, which is love”.
This practice is good for us in that it makes us happy, less focused on ourselves and more connected to others, which are all good for psychological and physical health. We are profoundly social creatures. We may think we want money, power, fame, beauty, eternal youth or the next iPhone, but at the root of most of these desires is a need to belong, to connect with others and to be loved. We pride ourselves on independence, a successful career and independence. However, psychologists from Maslow to Baumeister stress that social connection is one of our fundamental needs.
The challenges and gifts of the practice:
Desire – grasping or attachment – is a state of mind that defines what we think we need to be happy. We project our hopes and dreams of fulfillment onto something: an activity, a thing or a person, only to ask ourselves – what was that all about? Desire generates separateness and clouds our mind with attachment – which hinders the practice of loving-kindness.
The metta practice is an exploration of the deepest meanings of love and empathy, allowing us to reflect on the fact that all beings want to be happy – as we want to be happy.
One poignant moment for me was when we visited a slum in Munnar, India during a retreat that I led. In a shanty tent, I saw a mangled person on a cot and a woman tending to him – surrounded only by a few things. This was their home. I was overcome with distress and I could not look at these two human beings. They are like me, they want to be comfortable and free from suffering. I wanted to relieve them from their suffering – but didn’t know how other than placing a few hundred rupees in the woman’s hand. When I looked into her teary eyes, for a few moments, I did not feel “otherness”. But the reality was, I was walking to the jeep which would take me to my hotel for a sumptuous meal and a comfortable bed.
Throughout our lives we long to love ourselves deeply and find connection with others. I felt this vividly during a visit to an orphanage in India. The girls reminded me that “you don’t look like you are from america”, when I said that I was from America. Until then I felt so different, like I did not belong to this orphanage and its mosquito-ridden village.
The Buddha described this path as “the liberation of the heart, which is love.” Lovingkindness practice can help us discover our radiant, joyful hearts. The practice of lovingkindness is revolutionary because it has the power to radically change our lives, to cultivate true happiness and genuine compassion for others.
The purpose of Loving-Kindness Meditation is to make us more connected and kinder to others as well as to ourselves. Practicing metta meditation daily can substantially boost happiness and well-being. You may focus on phrases like: May all living beings be free from danger. May all have mental happiness. May all have physical happiness. May all have ease of well-being.