One of the many wonderful things about meditation is once you end a formal sitting meditation the benefits do not have to stop. There are many different ways to meditate, to bring your attention into the present moment. One meditation that has benefits is loving kindness meditation. Some things we have learned from Barbara Fredrickson, who is a leading researcher in the science of positive emotions, is that when people learn to generate more joy, gratitude and love in day-to-day life, they unlock lasting benefits for their mental and physical health. Fredrickson says that we have “more control than we think when we feel down.”
In a world where it can seem that people are often unreasonable, irrational and cannot agree on things, loving kindness meditation can help us navigate through unsettling times. Difficult times may be a worldview or they may be our personal story, sickness, financial issues, relationship problems, a demanding job, or the loss of a loved one. So, how can something like meditation be a soothing balm to such a raw area of our lives? Rather than being discouraged by difficulties we can learn to cultivate kindness for ourselves and others. The intentional cultivation of kindness, joy, compassion and equanimity is an antidote to the reactive negative impulses of our emotional and psychological habits.
Here is one example of how meditation carried over in my life. A number of years ago I was flying home from Boston to RDU after having been on a ten-day loving kindness silent meditation retreat. When I left the retreat, I felt the retreat was nice, it was peaceful but nothing out of the ordinary happened. Until this happened!
It was summer time and the flight out of Boston left in the early evening. As we were getting close to Raleigh/Durham Airport we flew into a summer rain storm. We could see lightning bolts out the window and as the plane hit air pockets, it would drop and lose altitude. Young children were screaming, older children were yelling like they were on a roller coaster ride, and adults were holding on the to each other or to the arm rest. I was in the undesirable middle seat with a man to my left and a young women on my right. There were moments on the plane when I really wondered if we were going to make it. Was this how my life was going to end? At the same time, I felt very calm and knew that whatever happened it would be okay. I felt peaceful inside.
Of course the plane did not crash! We finally landed safely but people were pretty shaken up by the experience. I was relieved that the plane landed safely, and I knew that the loving kindness meditation practice had helped me in a way that I could not have imagined. As we were waiting to get off the plane the young woman sitting next to me with whom I had not spoken, said, “sitting next to you I could feel your calmness and it helped me not be so afraid.” I had no idea that she was feeling that from me. I also had no idea that I could or would be that calm on such an uncomfortable and scary flight. I do know that the meditation carried over into the situation and supported me during that difficult time. You do not need to go on a long retreat to get the benefits of loving kindness meditation you only have to hold yourself and others in your heart!
As Sharon Salzberg who has been teaching and practicing loving-kindness for more than thirty years says, “the key to practicing loving kindness is recognizing that all human beings want to be part of something fulfilling or meaningful; that we are all vulnerable to change and loss.” Loving kindness meditation allows us to use our own pain and the pain of others as a vehicle for connection rather than isolation. The invitation of loving kindness is to learn to look at ourselves and others with kindness instead of criticism. Sometimes loving kindness comes in the form of compassion in response to pain and suffering, our own or others. Loving kindness sometimes comes in the form of sympathetic joy, the ability to be happy in the good fortune of others. Lastly loving kindness is an invitation of equanimity, to abide in being calm in the midst of conflict.
Of course this is just words on a page you will not really understand loving kindness meditation or any meditation until you try it!
Meditation practices based in loving kindness can create a place of mental and emotional space, an opportunity to breathe, and foster greater compassion for yourself and others.
In this 8 week program, you will learn to step out of the fray and into the present moment with joy that can help you cope with a stress-inducing environment. Bring meditation practices teaching kindness, compassion, joy and balance into your busy life, helping to cultivate happiness and promote well-being. To learn more about this program or to register, visit our website.
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