Celebrate Valentine’s Day and Improve Your Heart Health!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!  Since today is a global day focused on love, and the heart, I want to share with you an opportunity to enhance your heart health.

When it comes to our heart health, we usually focus on the external factors that impact our heart including exercise, eat right, sleep, etc.  But we usually fail to appropriately attend to our emotional well-being is critical to our physical health.

. Love is the cornerstone of our very existence, yet frequently overlooked and its significance is disregarded or undervalued.  It is the supreme emotion, that connects, enriches and empowers us all.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to share with you the ancient and powerful Lovingkindness meditation. It is an easy and powerful ways to cultivate love.

Loving-kindness meditation can be brought in to support the practice of ‘bare attention’ to help keep the mind open and sweet. It provides the essential balance to support your insight meditation practice.

It is a fact of life that many people are troubled by difficult emotional states in the pressured societies we live in, but do little in terms of developing skills to deal with them. Yet even when the mind goes sour it is within most people’s capacity to arouse positive feelings to sweeten it. Loving-kindness is a meditation practice taught by the Buddha to develop the mental habit of selfless or altruistic love. In the Dhammapada can be found the saying: “Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness, and dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on loving-kindness.”

Loving-kindness is a meditation practice, which brings about positive attitudinal changes as it systematically develops the quality of ‘loving-acceptance’. It acts, as it were, as a form of self-psychotherapy, a way of healing the troubled mind to free it from its pain and confusion. Of all Buddhist meditations, loving-kindness has the immediate benefit of sweetening and changing old habituated negative patterns of mind.

To put it into its context, Loving-kindness is the first of a series of meditations that produce four qualities of love: Friendliness (metta), Compassion (karuna), Appreciative Joy (mudita) and Equanimity (upekkha). The quality of ‘friendliness’ is expressed as warmth that reaches out and embraces others. When loving-kindness practice matures it naturally overflows into compassion, as one empathises with other people’s difficulties; on the other hand one needs to be wary of pity, as its near enemy, as it merely mimics the quality of concern without empathy. The positive expression of empathy is an appreciation of other people’s good qualities or good fortune, or appreciative joy, rather than feelings of jealousy towards them. This series of meditations comes to maturity as ‘on-looking equanimity’. This ‘engaged equanimity’ must be cultivated within the context of this series of meditations, or there is a risk of it manifesting as its near enemy, indifference or aloofness. So, ultimately you remain kindly disposed and caring toward everybody with an equal spread of loving feelings and acceptance in all situations and relationships.

How to do it . . .

The practice always begins with developing a loving acceptance of yourself. If resistance is experienced then it indicates that feelings of unworthiness are present. No matter, this means there is work to be done, as the practice itself is designed to overcome any feelings of self-doubt or negativity. Then you are ready to systematically develop loving-kindness towards others.

Four Types of Persons to develop loving-kindness towards:

  • a respected, beloved person – such as a spiritual teacher;
    • a dearly beloved – which could be a close family member or friend;
    • a neutral person – somebody you know, but have no special feelings towards, e.g.: a person who serves you in a shop;
    • a hostile person – someone you are currently having difficulty with.

Starting with yourself, then systematically sending loving-kindness from person to person in the above order will have the effect of breaking down the barriers between the four types of people and yourself. This will have the effect of breaking down the divisions within your own mind, the source of much of the conflict we experience. Just a word of caution if you are practicing intensively. It is best if you choose a member of the same sex or, if you have a sexual bias to your own sex, a person of the opposite sex. This is because of the risk that the near enemy of loving-kindness, lust, can be aroused. Try different people to practice on, as some people do not easily fit into the above categories, but do try to keep to the prescribed order.

Ways of arousing feelings of loving-kindness:

  1. Visualisation – Bring up a mental picture. See yourself or the person the feeling is directed at smiling back at you or just being joyous.
  2. By reflection – Reflect on the positive qualities of a person and the acts of kindness they have done. And to yourself, making an affirmation, a positive statement about yourself, using your own words.
  3. Auditory – This is the simplest way but probably the most effective. Repeat an internalized mantra or phrase such as ‘loving-kindness’.

The visualisations, reflections and the repetition of loving-kindness are devices to help you arouse positive feelings of loving-kindness. You can use all of them or one that works best for you. When the positive feeling arise, switch from the devices to the feeling, as it is the feeling that is the primary focus. Keep the mind fixed on the feeling, if it strays bring it back to the device, or if the feelings weaken or are lost then return to the device, i.e. use the visualisation to bring back or strengthen the feeling.

The second stage is Directional Pervasion where you systematically project the aroused feeling of loving-kindness to all points of the compass: north, south, east and west, up and down, and all around. This directional pervasion will be enhanced by bringing to mind loving friends and like-minded communities you know in the cities, towns and countries around the world.

Non-specific Pervasion tends to spontaneously happen as the practice matures. It is not discriminating. It has no specific object and involves just naturally radiating feelings of universal love. When it arises the practice has then come to maturity in that it has changed particular, preferential love, which is an attached love, to an all-embracing unconditional love!

Loving-kindness is a heart meditation and should not to be seen as just a formal sitting practice removed from everyday life. So take your good vibes outside into the streets, at home, at work and into your relationships. Applying the practice to daily life is a matter of directing a friendly attitude and having openness toward everybody you relate to, without discrimination.

There are as many different ways of doing it as there are levels of intensity in the practice. This introduction is intended to help you familiarize yourself with the basic technique, so that you can become established in the practice before going on, if you wish, to the deeper, systematic practice – to the level of meditative absorption.

Time required

15 minutes daily

How to do it

This exercise draws on a guided meditation created by researcher Emma Seppala, Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and author of The Happiness Track.

Body Position

Close your eyes. Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor and your spine straight. Relax your whole body. Keep your eyes closed throughout the whole visualization and bring your awareness inward. Without straining or concentrating, just relax and gently follow the instructions.

Take a deep breath in. And breathe out.

Receiving Loving-Kindness

Keeping your eyes closed, think of a person close to you who loves you very much. It could be someone from the past or the present; someone still in life or who has passed; it could be a spiritual teacher or guide. Imagine that person standing on your right side, sending you their love. That person is sending you wishes for your safety, for your well-being and happiness. Feel the warm wishes and love coming from that person towards you.

Now bring to mind the same person or another person who cherishes you deeply. Imagine that person standing on your left side, sending you wishes for your wellness, for your health and happiness. Feel the kindness and warmth coming to you from that person.

Now imagine that you are surrounded on all sides by all the people who love you and have loved you. Picture all of your friends and loved ones surrounding you. They are standing sending you wishes for your happiness, well-being, and health. Bask in the warm wishes and love coming from all sides. You are filled, and overflowing with warmth and love.

Sending Loving-Kindness to Loved Ones

Now bring your awareness back to the person standing on your right side. Begin to send the love that you feel back to that person. You and this person are similar. Just like you, this person wishes to be happy. Send all your love and warm wishes to that person.

Repeat the following phrases, silently:

May you live with ease, may you be happy, may you be free from pain. 
May you live with ease, may you be happy, may you be free from pain.
May you live with ease, may you be happy, may you be free from pain.

Now focus your awareness on the person standing on your left side. Begin to direct the love within you to that person. Send all your love and warmth to that person. That person and you are alike. Just like you, that person wishes to have a good life.

Repeat the following phrases, silently:

Just as I wish to, may you be safe, may you be healthy, may you live with ease and happiness.
Just as I wish to, may you be safe, may you be healthy, may you live with ease and happiness.
Just as I wish to, may you be safe, may you be healthy, may you live with ease and happiness.

Now picture another person that you love, perhaps a relative or a friend. This person, like you, wishes to have a happy life. Send warm wishes to that person.

Repeat the following phrases, silently:

May your life be filled with happiness, health, and well-being.
May your life be filled with happiness, health, and well-being.
May your life be filled with happiness, health, and well-being.

Sending Loving-Kindness to Neutral People

Now think of an acquaintance, someone you don’t know very well and toward whom you do not have any particular feeling. You and this person are alike in your wish to have a good life.

Send all your wishes for well-being to that person, repeating the following phrases, silently:

Just as I wish to, may you also live with ease and happiness.
Just as I wish to, may you also live with ease and happiness.
Just as I wish to, may you also live with ease and happiness.

Now bring to mind another acquaintance toward whom you feel neutral. It could be a neighbor, or a colleague, or someone else that you see around but do not know very well. Like you, this person wishes to experience joy and well-being in his or her life.

Send all your good wishes to that person, repeating the following phrases, silently:

May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free from all pain. 
May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free from all pain. 
May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free from all pain. 

Sending Loving-Kindness to All Living Beings

Now expand your awareness and picture the whole globe in front of you as a little ball.

Send warm wishes to all living beings on the globe, who, like you, want to be happy:

Just as I wish to, may you live with ease, happiness, and good health. 
Just as I wish to, may you live with ease, happiness, and good health.
Just as I wish to, may you live with ease, happiness, and good health.

Take a deep breath in. And breathe out. And another deep breath in and let it go. Notice the state of your mind and how you feel after this meditation.

When you’re ready, you may open your eyes.

Sources:
 http://www.buddhanet.net/metta_in.htm
This article was adapted from Greater Good In Action, a site launched by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, in collaboration with HopeLab. Synthesizing hundreds of scientific studies, Greater Good in Action collects the best research-based methods for a happier, more meaningful life—and puts them at your fingertips in a format that’s easy to navigate and digest.

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