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This past Monday I led a mindfulness meditation for Capitol Hill Staffers and Members sponsored by Congressman Tim Ryan. We practiced the classic Buddhist “Loving-Kindness” or “Metta” Meditation.
Why this practice? It is incredibly practical!
Barb Frederickson, the principal investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory (a.k.a. PEP Lab) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has revealed through research how positive emotions, fleeting as they are, can tip the scales toward a life of flourishing.
Frederickson and her colleagues are discovering that “micro-moments of connection” significantly increase our sense of well being. These are the brief periods when we connect real time with others – we meet each other’s gaze, synchronize our body movements (such as a handshake) and generally wish each other well. These connections actually improve our vagal tone, improving the functioning of the vagus nerve that runs from the brain to the heart and helps regulate the heart when we are having a flight/fight response.
Frederickson and her colleagues have found that one way to help us open to making these healthy connections with others is Loving-Kindness Meditation. Even five minutes a day of this practice can offer benefits such as experiencing more love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope pride, amusement and awe . . . becoming more satisfied with their lives and experiencing less depression. I find all of this incredibly helpful for my coaching clients. For most of us, there are at least a few one-on-one meetings or group gatherings each week we dread.
It is my experience working with clients and myself that drawing from the Loving-Kindness Meditation can help us condition our hearts and minds to be more open and less reactive during these interactions, improving the quality of these relationships. While it is helpful to cultivate a sitting practice for five minutes or so a day, this is also a practice you can use “on the fly” – say, as you are walking down the hall for your dreaded meeting.
The version of the sitting meditation I used last week is simple. Here goes:
1. Find yourself a comfortable upright seat with your feet on the floor, feel your sits bones connecting with your chair and allow your spine to be erect.
2. Take nine, conscious deep breaths. Relax your shoulders and jaw.
3. Bring to mind a person or pet who makes you feel safe and comfortable. Imagine the person or pet in your mind’s eye and silently send them the following wishes – “May you be happy, many you be healthy, may you be safe, may you be at ease.”
4. Repeat these phrases silently as wholeheartedly as possible visualizing, in turn, you, a difficult person, a neutral person (say that clerk in the grocery store), and the entire world.
To practice “one the fly” try the open eyed version – simply visualize the person you are meeting with and repeat the phrases silently in your mind to prepare.
Keep me posted on how this goes for you . . .