Compassion meditation: a simple formula for happiness
Last night as I was getting my daughter ready for bed, she tested the boundaries of my patience in a way only four year olds can. When feelings of frustration began to rise in my chest, I took myself off to the kitchen for ten deep slow breaths. When I returned, she was curled up in a ball on her pillow crying. Where I had felt anger, now compassion filled my heart. A missive popped into my head: Love the unlovable, they need it the most. Not that she is unlovable by any means, but her behaviour in those previous moments certainly was.
It started me thinking about what it means to act with compassion. Anthony Robbins once said: All communication is either a cry for help or a loving response. It made me realise that sometimes when people are not acting with love, it is because they are coming from a place of fear. Fear can make us do and say many strange and hurtful things, whether we are four years old or forty. Fear of not being understood, of not being loved, of losing something or someone important to us, of things changing and so on. And when we are fearful, we are not happy.
If we meet someone’s fear with our own unloving response, all we create is more misunderstanding and sadness. However, if we are able to meet that fear with empathy and love, it can often be transformed. We can’t create a better world by reacting to darkness with more darkness. The only way to eliminate darkness is by generating more light.
If you can see through another person’s ‘unlovable’ behaviour to the fear bubbling below, then rather than feeding the darkness, you can choose to act with compassion, increasing the love and happiness in both your hearts.
Feeling empathy and compassion for ourselves and our fellow beings is a cornerstone of being on this planet. We are all plugged in to the same source and when we switch on a light in our own soul we switch on the lights in beings all over the world. And although it is easier to feel compassion for those we feel do not deserve to suffer, it is often those who have the thorniest shells who need it the most. If you can see through another person’s ‘unlovable’ behaviour to the fear bubbling below, then rather than feeding the darkness, you can choose to act with compassion, increasing the love and happiness in both your hearts.
This also applies to the way we talk to ourselves. If your self talk is harsh or unsupportive, stop for a moment and ask yourself, What is really going on here? Is it possible that I am afraid? If we realise that we are indeed acting from fear, we can choose to meet ourselves with gentle kindness instead of criticism. With acceptance comes love and with that comes happiness.
Metta meditation, also called loving kindness or compassion meditation, is a simple way to intensify our sense of compassion and thus our happiness in the world. Loving kindness meditation stems from the buddhist tradition and focuses on generating feelings of loving kindness to yourself, to those around you and finally to all beings.
Research has shown that practising compassion can increase physical healing, create emotional balance and actually turn up our happiness quotient. It can regulate hormones such as oxytocin and cortisol, reduce stress reactions, and assist with depression and anxiety. It can also boost our patience, gratitude and acceptance for ourselves and for those around us.
Here are 3 simple steps to practising loving kindness meditation and bringing more happiness into your daily life.
Loving kindness meditation
1. Self compassion
Sit comfortably and breathe deeply, releasing any tension in your body and relaxing your mind. Bring into your awareness a loved person with whom you have experienced unconditional acceptance and happiness. Recognise that they too are a being on this planet who has fears and needs, just as you do. Mentally place this person or animal into your heart and when you feel a strong feeling of love, silently repeat: May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.
2. Compassion for your loved ones
After a few minutes, bring into your heart a friend or someone in your life who has deeply cared for you. Then slowly repeat the phrases of loving-kindness toward them: May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.
3. Compassion for all beings
As you continue the meditation, bring into your heart other friends, neighbors, acquaintances, strangers, and finally people with whom you have difficulty. Repeat the phrases of loving-kindness toward them: May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.
Increase your compassion and happiness each day by creating a habit of repeating the phrases of loving kindness meditation when you have a shower, or stop at the traffic lights, when you sit down on the bus, when you enter a room or before a presentation. Directing compassion to those around you will have the knock on effect of increasing your own self-compassion and happiness.
And so to you, dear reader:
May you be happy.
May you be well.
May you be safe.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
Next post: What advice would you give to your younger self?
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