Mindfulness expert Sharon Salzberg explains loving-kindness meditation.
One way to bring moments of healthy connection to your life is, surprisingly, to spend time alone. Experts say meditation and other forms of mindfulness train you to have better rapport with others. As we eliminate distractions in our lives and become more aware of ourselves and those around us, we begin to live in the moment and experience those moments more fully.
A special kind of meditation
One popular practice is the loving-kindness meditation, which is shown to help us create a greater connection with other people. “Loving-kindness meditation is a way of training our attention to be more inclusive and open,” says Sharon Salzberg, a leading proponent of Buddhist meditation practices and author of several books, including Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation.
Unlike other forms of meditation, loving-kindness involves wishing ourselves and others well. Loving-kindness encourages us to aim tender thoughts at others—both people we know and don’t know. “In thinking about others, instead of rigidly categorizing some as ‘unimportant’ or ‘not counting,’ we are more fully present, so we genuinely feel connected.”
Studies show that meditation can help you feel and act with compassion. In a study at Northeastern University, people who had practiced loving-kindness or another type of mindfulness for eight weeks were much more likely than members of a control group to stand up and give their seats to someone on crutches. At Stanford University, after just a few minutes of loving-kindness meditation, participants in another study felt more connected to strangers pictured in photographs and had more positive feelings about them.
Warning: Strong emotions may occur
Eager to give loving-kindness meditation a go? Start with professional guidance—a therapist or clinician trained in the method, advises neuroscientist Gaëlle Desbordes of Harvard Medical School, who collaborated on the Northeastern study. Individuals who are depressed or have other mental health issues might discover pre-existing trauma through meditation, but most healthy individuals will find it beneficial.
Here, Sharon explains the basics of how to get started:
1. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed—“It doesn’t have to be a formal meditation posture.”
2. Choose simple phrases to repeat to yourself as you breathe deeply. Sharon suggests: “May I be safe;” “may I be happy;” “may I be healthy;” and/or “may I live with ease.” As the pronoun suggests, you first think these wishes for yourself, and picture yourself experiencing them. Gently repeat the phrases, each time directing your wishes at another person in your life. It could be someone you get along with; it could be someone with whom you’ve been experiencing friction.
3. If your mind wanders, try to let go of whatever thought is distracting you and return to your phrases.
4. If you feel like it, offer the wishes to “all beings everywhere—those whom you know, those whom you don’t know.” Start with just five minutes of meditation daily, and try building your practice to 20 minutes or more.
Make it easy and informal
In addition to a more formal meditation practice, Sharon says that as you become more adept at loving kindness, you can do it “on the fly.” Practice it throughout the day, while walking, driving or even waiting in line. Sharon says she aims silent wishes at people she passes on the street (with her eyes open, of course).
Who is this??
Another way to prime yourself for loving connections? When your telephone rings, don’t pick it up right away. “Let it ring three times and breathe,” Sharon suggests. “It just gives you a few moments to break the momentum of the maybe crazy day you’re having.” That allows you to feel fully present, so you can connect better with the person who is calling.