Take This Month to Focus on Your Heart!Posted: February 5, 2016
Hello February, 2016! So good to greet you! I’ve never seen you before. I wonder what adventures we will have in store for us this month? Perhaps a little heart work—in many different directions. After all, February is National Heart Awareness Month (today is the Go Red for Women’s Day). It is this month that we are reminded to focus on our physical health and well-being, getting our blood pressure numbers checked and controlled for, and to understand the need for awareness around stroke and heart disease. These aspects are so important to wellness, as increasing this awareness can reduce suffering and influence the quality and longevity of our lives. It is so important to know your numbers, as well as the signs for disease, and put in place measures you can take to reduce your risks. What will YOU do today to improve the health of your heart? Besides measuring your blood pressure, you can also check your cholesterol levels, get some cardio workouts in to exercise the muscle (more walking and moving/less sitting), and perhaps give gratitude for and appreciate your heart.
For Health and Love
February is also the month to focus on the heart through another lens: that of love. With Valentine’s Day coming up, we are encouraged to express our love for those important relationships in our lives; be it romantic, platonic, familial, etc… So much emphasis is placed on this day as well, and for good reason: social connections are one of the biggest influencers on our well-being. If you want to increase your happiness… go connect with another in any way you can—in person, virtually, or asynchronously. The effects of social connection broaden and build our inner resources in all ways: physically, psychologically and emotionally. They also build our social relationships as well. So, whatever way you can connect with someone and express your love or appreciation, just do it! Perhaps send a Valentine’s Day card, or a gratitude letter, expressing thanks for all the ways a dear one has made your life a better place. Ring up an old friend or relative and reminisce about a past good memory, or better yet create a new memory that you can reflect back on in years to come.
For Calmness, Relaxation, Comfort and Sanity!
Now, if you cannot connect with a love one for some reason in any moment, you don’t have to just pass on the idea… you can connect in your mind through a meditation known as Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM, also known as Metta). What is Loving-Kindness Meditation? It’s an opening of the heart, wishing good will and well-being for others and for ourselves. It’s an ancient meditation that uses the power of language, imagery, concentration, connection and caring. By practicing LKM, calmness and relaxation are achieved through concentration. LKM can also bring comfort and soothing, and a whole list of other benefits as reported on by Researcher Emma Seppala in her article, “18 Science-Based Reasons to Try Loving-Kindness Meditation Today!” Any way you slice it, practicing this type of meditation is good for your heart physically, psychologically, and emotionally too. It’s involves cultivating and sharing a positive emotion with others, and with yourself. What we know about positive emotion is that we need more of it in our daily lives. So, do your heart and relationships some good and try it yourself. Check out the Guided Loving-Kindness Meditation I offer in the Resources section of BeingMerry.com, under Mindfulness and Guided Meditations.
My Story of Practicing Loving-Kindness Meditation
I not only teach Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM) in the Mindful Self-Compassion course, I also practice it daily. I started my LKM practice a few years ago, when I became acquainted with it through the work of Barbara Fredrickson, research and author of the book, Love 2.0. I had the opportunity of taking a coaching course from Dr. Fredrickson, based on her books Love 2.0 and Positivity. It was then that I discovered how LKM can affect the heart—not just through learning about it cerebrally, but by applying it and marinating in it, experientially. I learned to offer wishes of good will to my children, my pet, and my then-husband. I learned that relationships change from practicing LKM, in that we begin to see the people to whom we are offering wishes of good will in a different light; one of humanity and compassion (and when you are dealing with teenagers—sometimes you question their humanity and compassion)!
One jewel that I walked away with from practicing, and specifically offering LKM to myself, is that I too deserve these wishes of good will and well-being. When I included myself in the LKM practice, my circle of compassion became complete, and I began to feel differently about myself. I not only became calmer and more understanding with others, I started to show more compassion to myself. This has been especially helpful during the stressful transitional times of my life that included raising children and teenagers, transitioning careers, and going through a divorce. LKM has allowed me to awaken a practice of self-compassion and how I relate to myself, while enhancing my relationships with others. There are so many wonderful meditations out there for us to apply to enhance our well-being, but LKM is one that touched me the most, in so many different ways and places—especially my heart.
Starting Your LKM Practice
When I practice LKM, I notice how it relaxes my heart and sets the tone for the day and how I will live my life. Here are some guidelines to think about as you begin your practice.
Identify Your Intention
I start LKM with an intention, which arises after asking: What do I want to get out of practicing LKM? Why is it important? Why am I doing it? Identifying why I am practicing, motivates me to stay with the practice. Examples of an intention could be to bring more presence and engagement to life, or to improve relationships with myself and/or others, or perhaps increasing positive emotion and decreasing rumination (see benefits of meditation). There are so many intentions one can have for meditating. It’s good to check in with yourself on this.
Identify To Whom You Will Send Loving-Kindness
Once you know what your intention is, it’s time to think of a dear one to whom you will send these wishes of well-being. Bring to mind their image. What words of goodwill might you want to offer them? What might they need to hear that would resonate with them? I offer different phrases for my kids as they have unique personalities and specific needs.
Identify Phrases to Use
The traditional Loving-Kindness Meditation phrases of good will are:
- May you be safe ,
- May you be healthy,
- May you be happy, and
- May you live with ease.
You can use these phrases or identify others that resonate with your dear ones and yourself. With self-compassion, when finding phrases for ourselves, we ask, “What do I need to be happy?” And listen to the answers that arise: perhaps meaningful work, healthy children, a healthy body and life, love, friendship, etc…. There’s a great resource online from the Center for Nonviolent Communication that can be helpful to bring awareness to needs- a Needs Inventory where needs are listed and categorized.
Adopt an Accepting Attitude
There are so many ways you can offer Loving-Kindness to others. You may offer these phrases to your loved one, to many loved ones, to a neutral party, to a difficult party and to yourself. It’s important to note, to bring to mind the image of whomever you are offering these phrases, and to keep your heart open.
As you sit between breaths, notice what may be arising in you (sensations, thoughts, emotions). It could be a sense of warmth, or heat. Perhaps an openness or expansion. Or perhaps not. It may take a while to notice these feelings, and it’s important to remember that this is a practice to cultivate those feelings, which may take time. Just be curious as to what arises, and lean into that, holding it in awareness and accepting what arises.
End your meditation knowing that you just did something wonderful for your whole body, mind and spirit, and for the body, mind and spirit of another as well. Try practicing on your own 5-10 minutes a day. Increase that practice to about 20-30 minutes if you can, gradually. Or choose a guided meditation—again look at my “resources” section. Or take time during your day and send those phrases out to whoever needs it in the world—perhaps using Social Media to begin to circulate good will and well-being. However you do it, practicing Loving-Kindness Meditation is something that you can do for yourself, for others and for the global community, to make this a more compassionate world. Be the change you want to see in the world… starting with you!