1. Heart and head
Mindfulness can seem a heady endeavor. Many of the meditations we do specifically require us to engage our ‘higher brains’ – our executive function or prefrontal cortex (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130604114001.htm)– to be inquisitive and investigate experiences impartially, just like a scientist would. Lovingkindness meditations strengthen the areas of the brain that support compassion, connection and joy.
The more experienced compassion meditators showed a larger brain response in areas important for processing physical sensations and for emotional responding.
A seven-week lovingkindness meditation course also increased the participants’ daily experience of joy, gratitude, and hope. The more participants meditated, the better they felt.
2. Compassion breeds contentment
We are social beings hard-wired for connections with other humans. Fostering positive attitudes toward ourselves and others seems to bring us some degree of peace and joy, but it’s not always easy. As we meditate on these ideas, sadness can arise as we become more aware of relationships, whether with ourselves or others, that are fraught. We may find too that what we can not accept in ourselves, it is very hard to accept in others. So we practice accepting and having compassion for ourselves just as we are, imagining ourselves to be the young child we once were, someone easily deserving of compassion and love. Sometimes it is easiest to call up these feelings by imagining a pet or young child, a being with no strings attached. We can expand our feelings of lovingkindness from there.
Like a caring mother holding and guarding the life of her only child, so with a boundless heart of lovingkindness, hold yourself and all beings as your beloved children.
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere else insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were simply necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
3. Week’s practices
- Notice a routine activity.
- Practice a meditation each day. Aim for 20 minutes. Try the lovingkindness meditation a few times (see link below).
- Notice when your attitudinal foundation arises on its own and try cultivating it.
Postivity, by Barbara Fredrickson and J Pers Soc Psychol. Nov 2008; 95(5): 1045–1062.