I’m not one for being told to send love to one person on a particular day, so I won’t be marking Valentine’s Day on 14th February next week. But before you think I’m a grumpy grouch, there is another way you can send love, compassion and kindness to all, and, it has scientifically proven benefits!
Loving kindness meditation, or metta bhavana, is a specific meditation technique you can use which helps you cultivate compassion and loving kindness, taking you on a journey starting with yourself and progressing through five stages.
Despite virtual international connections, we sometimes don’t have much compassion for ourselves or others. Some people may also not have much sense of a connection with people around them, in work or where they live, or may have poor connections with family members. Compassion is a key ingredient to our health and well-being.
A blog post by Emma Seppälä lists all the scientifc benefits (with references) of practising loving kindness meditation, some of which came about through her research of the practice.
To try it yourself read a description of what to do on this website, or practise a guided (led) version with Emma Seppälä (13 minute audio track). This can be quite a powerful practice, so be prepared for strong emotions to come up during it.
The first stage focuses on yourself, sending yourself loving kindness: “may I be well, may I be happy”. This is followed by wishing the same to someone very dear to you, then a person you feel neutral about, then someone you have difficulties with, and finally to all living beings. Each time you practise it you can vary the people you choose to focus on in the loving kindness meditation, or you might wish to keep them the same for a while so that you can monitor changes in your feelings and your compassion. Either way, you start with yourself and end with everyone.
But how can this personal practice have any benefits beyond one person? Can it help change the world, reduce hatred, mis-trust and self-interest? Well, imagine that you have been wishing a particular person loving kindness for several weeks, someone whom you find difficult, and you are sending them kind thoughts during your metta bhavana practice. Then, you see them for first time since you’ve been doing this. Rather than getting annoyed with them, maybe your response to them will be different – maybe you will smile at them instead, maybe you will end the conversation on a pleasant note instead of an angry tone. What if this subtle difference in behavour is enough to change their day, their response to a situaton or somebody? Imagine the ripples that could come from one person practising this technique.