Loving Kindness meditation and the impact on the brain
The goal of Loving Kindness Meditation is to develop friendliness and wishes of well being towards all sentient beings, including yourself. Loving Kindness meditation has nothing to do with romantic love, which sometimes can be summarized as ‘’I am going to love you, but you better love me back’’. It is done by focusing on a person or a group of person. It is the best antidote against anger and hostility. These two emotions can be extremely detrimental to us. Carrying a grudge in life is a heavy burden. We all have difficulties with some people and some people have difficulties with us. This is part and parcel of deciding to interact with people. But we can ask ourself : are we ready to live the rest of our life hating a person when we know the psychological and physical consequences it has on us? I can voluntarily decide to let no individual degrade my mind and my health by making me hate him.
This isn’t just a theory. In studies regarding stress related diseases it is found that the level of hostility in a person is one of the best predictor of heart disease. A Gallup poll ranked 10 american cities in terms of hostility. From highest to lowest :
- New York
- Des Moines
These studies suggest that a high degree of hostility in these cities predicts coronary disease, arteriosclerosis, hemorrhagic stroke and higher risk of mortality with these diseases. At the core of hostility there is a sense of time pressuredness. There’s no time to appreciate anything or anybody in life, even yourself. You must constantly run to another achievement, a sense of insecurity makes you feel like a fraud to the world.
Loving kindness meditation addresses that directly. It is done by developing friendliness and wishes of well being towards people by respecting a certain order: yourself, a respected beloved person, a close friend, a neutral person (somebody you know and have no special feelings towards), a person who has given you some difficulties and finally you try to extend your loving kindness to all sentient beings and spread it to the whole universe. We try to achieve a non-referential altruistic love.
Loving Kindness has been studied from a neuroscientific perspective. Richard Davidson observed meditators over time. When practicing this type of meditation, participants were instructed to observe visceral sensations, especially in the region of the heart. He wanted to know which system in the brain were activated when someone voluntarily cultivates compassion. Loving Kindness Meditation changes the activity of the insular cortex. It is the only part of the brain that has a map of the internal organs. In the Insular Cortex it mainly affects the area responsible for empathy. Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another sentient or fictional being. It seems like we need a certain amount of empathy in order to experience sympathy and compassion (a wish to see a person better off and happier).
The Dalai lama :
‘’The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well being becomes. Cultivating a close warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. This helps remove whatever fears or insecurity we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles encountered. It is the ultimate source of success in life. from my own limited experience, I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion’’.