A month of love cultivation

Books, Life, Thoughts and Opinions

Almost exactly one month ago I started an experiment where I would do metta (AKA lovingkindness) meditation three days a week and see what would happen.

During the month I also read the book: “Love 2.0” (the one that is discussed in the article I link to in my original blog post). I also discovered the author’s “Happify” iPhone app (and website) and have gone through some of the tracks.

When I started the experiment I was at the tail end of a pretty bad depression and decided that lovingkindness meditation 3 days a week certainly couldn’t hurt! So how do I feel now, a month later? I can tell you that I feel much happier. I am not sure if it is the result of doing the meditation or simply my brain chemistry (maybe it’s both) but I feel much happier. I think that what is happening is I am making new neural pathways in my brain that are causing me to feel positive emotions rather than negative emotions. In my experience, due to my issues with depression,  the first emotion to arise for me in a situation is negative.  It took a long time to  be able to take a step back and realize this was happening. When I was finally able to take a step back and understand what was happening it made me feel even more miserable about myself and I wondered if I would ever be able to have a different response.

So in the past month I feel like this practice has been a tool for me to rewire my brain. I am not saying I’m all sunshine and roses (my husband and verify this with you 😉 ) but I do notice that more positive feelings are bubbling up to the surface before the negative ones.

I am also feeling loved. This may sound weird to you, but feeling loved has been difficult for me. Mostly because I have had a hard time loving myself. But I am starting to feel like I am loved an appreciated, and that is a wonderful feeling.

In the book, Barbara Frederickson talks about love, physiologically,  being an emotion that you feel in micro-moments. You have these moments with your partner the most, and with your family, and children if you have them. But you can also have these moments with anyone. Physiologically your body doesn’t really know the difference. So her idea is to cultivate this feeling of love toward all beings, not just the most important people in your life. She proposes that the more micro-moments of love you experience, the happier you will be. So as I’ve been practicing metta meditation I have also been trying to have those moments with others. As I experience them I feel like the best way to describe them is as  moments of kindness. Indeed, being kinder throughout the day has made me feel happier.

When I was going through my depression I decided that I needed a break from Facebook. I do this a lot when I am depressed. I feel like Facebook takes a lot out of me and when I am in that state I need to limit myself to the bare minimum of things that I can do – and sometimes Facebook isn’t one of those things. Instead of completely cutting myself off I limited my time there. I only checked in a couple of times a day. I found this to be a good happy medium for me. I could still keep up with my friends but I was missing a lot of the drama and other things that bug me about the website. While I was on my semi break, and while I was reading Love 2.0, I realized some things about social media that is helping me understand my weird feelings toward Facebook. Frederickson, in her studies, suggests that this physiological feeling of love can only happen face to face because there is something that takes place in the physical realm for this to take place. I am not sure if I agree with this, and I feel like anyone who has cultivated online friendships would understand my disagreement. I certainly have felt connection with my distant friends. However, I  am wondering if this physiological connection has something to do with my feeling like I need to take a break from social media when I am in a depressed state. I am wondering if I am just not able to fully get what I need from the online world and because I am not “filling the void” so to speak, it becomes this circle of depression and unfulfillment. I guess sometimes I need real hugs.

Just some thoughts. Thanks for indulging me. 🙂 And if you have read this far – wow. Thank you! ❤ 🙂

 

Cultivate Love

Life, Thoughts and Opinions

This morning, my friend Marisa shared on Twitter this fascinating article (written in 2013 at the Atlantic) about love. It’s title is “There’s No Such Thing As Everlasting Love.” But I think the title is a bit misleading. Instead, the article is about the fact that romantic love is impossible to sustain, scientifically speaking. The focus of the article is a scientist named, Barbara Frederickson, who wrote the book Love 2.0. She suggests that our definition of love is wrong, that we actually experience moments of love all the time, and that maybe we should focus more on those moments. Focusing on those moments can bring happiness and joy to a person’s life.

She also suggests that love can be cultivated. I’ll let the Atlantic explain the study that she did and the results (it does so better than I can). But the thing that jumped out at me is that she tested her theory by using a Buddhist form of meditation that I am very familiar with, Mettā, translated in English as lovingkindness meditation. I’ve talked about my experience with this on my blog before. My experience with this seemed miraculous, frankly. But it’s really very practical.

It’s easy to do and you don’t have to be Buddhist to do this. Find a comfortable chair and about ten minutes to yourself (or even 5). Say these phrases in your head over and over:

May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be safe
May you live with ease.

 

Start with yourself. Yep, just say the phrases to yourself. Then move on to someone you care about. Think about that person and say the phrases to them. Then think about someone you know who is in pain. Say the phrases to them. Think about someone you might be having difficulty with. Say the phrases to them. Think about someone you see often but don’t have a relationship with, like the cashier at the grocery story. Say the phrases to them. End the meditation by sending the phrases to all beings.

If your mind wanders don’t worry about it (it will wander) just come back to focusing on the phrases.

There are countless guided meditations of this out there. Google “Metta Guided Meditations.” Choose one and follow along to get a feel for how it’s done. Here is one by Gil Fronsdale, whom I like.

I am going to try something. Using my “I wonder what will happen if” principle : I am going to try doing Metta meditation three days a week. I wonder what will happen? Maybe I will write a blog post about it in a month and let you know.

I would encourage you to try it as well! If nothing else, you will have a few relaxing moments to yourself. If you do try it, I’d love to hear about your experience!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Write about your neighbor*

Thoughts and Opinions

Last summer a new neighbor moved in and he smoked. I was irritated by this because it was hot outside and I wanted the windows open. Unfortunately when the windows were open the pollution of the smoke inundated my senses. Eventually my irritation turned to anger and I found myself wishing really awful things on this person I didn’t even know. Things began to really snowball when I finally saw this person smoking in front of his apartment. He was scraggly and pale and  I made up all kinds of scary stories in my head about him.

At the time I was learning about Mettā, also known as Loving Kindness meditation. Mettā is form of meditation in which you send love to all beings, essentially.  I won’t get into the details (if you are interested you can find instructions here). I decided to send loving kindness to our neighbor. Mettā is  hard to do when you are not feeling any love or kindness for someone. I certainly was not feeling any of that. But I still said these words in my head and  directed them to my neighbor, who would be smoking on the front porch as I did this most likely (’cause he was a chain smoker).

May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be safe
May you live with ease.

Like I said, I didn’t feel any kind of love or kindness toward this person but I said the words anyway. What did I have to lose?

The craziest thing happened. Not long after I started doing this our neighbor struck up a conversation with Raf. He heard Raf upstairs running his tattoo machine and asked him if he was a tattoo artist. Raf ended up tattooing him and they developed a friendly acquaintance. Eventually I chatted with him too when I ran into him outside our apartment. I found out that he was a really nice guy (not the scary person I concocted in my  mind). I learned his story and have a great deal of compassion for him now.

When I think about this I am amazed. Loving kindness is truly a powerful thing.

 

*I was looking for writing prompts so I could have something to blog about today and came upon this fabulous website.