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“It is far too easy to discourage, all too easy to criticise, to complain, to rebuke. Let us try instead to see even a small amount of good in a person and concentrate on that. Let us be quicker to praise than to find fault. Let us be quicker to thank others than to complain.” ~ Desmond Tutu
Some very wise words here from Desmond Tutu, our world could be a much kinder more compassionate place. I would like to add something though…
It is often easier to put this “kind” attitude out into the world than it is to direct it towards ourselves. Think how much nicer a place it would be to live from if our inner worlds were kind and compassionate also.
Our critical inner voice can at times be scathing and the messages it brings can impact us in life limiting ways. Research shows us however that the ability to foster an attitude of self-compassion is a big key in starting to overcome this. However, this skill is not often an easy one to master, the reasons for this are varied and complicated.
The good news is that exploration in therapy of what causes this criticism of self can help to turn things around and there are so many techniques that you can use to help you develop a self-compassionate attitude. I thought I would share one of these with you today…
Metta meditation is a form of contemplative practice which originates in the Buddhist tradition. Roughly translated it means loving kindness meditation.
The reported benefits of engaging regularly in this form of meditation are varied and include the following:
Increases vagal tone, which increases positive emotions & feelings of social connection
Activates empathy & emotional processing in the brain
Increases grey matter volume
How to do it
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in Metta and claim that I know the way that is right for you to do this; there are a number of different ideas about how this meditation should be done which you can find in abundance on the internet, but in its simplest form it is the act of visualising a person (yourself or others) in front of you whilst in a meditative state and offering to them some form of loving kindness by repeating a phrase such as:
“May you be happy.”
“May you be healthy.”
“May you be safe.”
“May you be at ease.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, keep going.”
“May your mind be at ease.”
“May your body be at ease.”
“May your heart be at ease.”
“May you feel loved.”
“May you feel cared for.”
“May you experience moments of ease.”
Traditionally you would start the practice by offering loving kindness to someone you love, then someone you feel neutrally about, yourself, and finally someone with whom you have difficulty. This helps us to build our ability to have compassion for everyone, including ourselves.
It may seem on the surface that there might not be much substance to this practice – I know that in my more cynical moments I can be heard saying things like “what, so I imagine something hard enough and that’s going to make me feel better?!?” – and yet there is some strong science to back up the efficacy of this approach.
When we engage in this style of contemplative practice it brings with it all the health benefits that any meditative practice can have such as reduced stress, better sleep, reduced blood pressure etc, and also by using active imagination we are also tapping into a part of our brains called the reticular activating system (RAS).
The RAS has a number of functions and is a key player in our fight/flight responses. It helps us transition from sleep to an alert state, co-ordinates our responses to external stimuli, plays a key role in our motor control, and helps us to filter out information from our environment and become focused. Our RAS is trained in part by our experiences and intentions about what to filter out, for example when you have decided to buy a certain type of car and you then start to notice that particular car type everywhere you go, that is our reticular activating system at play.
If your RAS is trained to expect the world to be a harsh and critical place you will subconsciously be on the lookout for those experiences. So, when we make a regular practice of extending loving kindness towards others and to ourselves our RAS adds compassion to the list of things we need to take notice of and we start to experience it more in the world.
Would you like to live in a world which feels more kind and compassionate? Why not give metta a go then and see how you get on?
I hope you’ve found this useful and have enjoyed the read. If you are interested in exploring how therapy can support you on your journey, why not email me and book in for your free consultation.