Regardless of our individual spiritual opinions, we are the architects of our own experience.
From thoughts and feelings, beliefs and judgments, we create our meanings from limited perspectives.
We have control over life’s influences.
There are always choices. You are infinitely more powerful than you realize.
Conjure your vision and hold your purpose.
Plan knowing that life is change. It’a all process. Flow.
Believe in yourself.
Practice patience, moderation and concentration. Ask questions.
Find the resources that you need. Ask for help along the way. Share.
Beware fear, greed, narcissism and drama. Recognize opportunities disguised as loss.
Be open to moments of love and compassion. Accept and tolerate.
Forgive mistakes. Release anything or anyone rotting, decayed or superfluous.
Wander with awe, respect and dignity for all. You are not alone.
All is one. One is all. Unify.
You can change. You are resilient. Hope.
Know for sure you’ve only two choices: be the solution or be the problem.
Small Amounts of Loving-Kindness Meditation Lead to Big Change
By Angela Wilson
One increasingly popular form of meditation is loving-kindness meditation (LKM), the practice of wishing one’s self and others to be happy, content, and at ease. In the yoga tradition, loving-kindness is seen as an opportunity to “cultivate the opposite.” Where many meditation techniques encourage students to explore difficult feelings or emotions directly, in loving-kindness, the invitation is to send well wishes to oneself (who is in distress) as well as the other (who we feel distress toward). This isn’t meant to suppress the feelings as they arise, but instead it can be thought of as a soothing balm, something gently placed on a wound for healing.
Over the past several years, as meditation research has become more prevalent, science has become interested in the effects of loving-kindness practice on the mind and the body. Under the guidance of such well-known contemplatives as the Dalai Lama, researchers believed that LKM would offer similar benefits to other forms of meditation, such as breath meditation or open-awareness meditation.
As it turns out, LKM offers unique benefits that are subtly different from other kinds of meditation. What are those differences? Some just might surprise you.
LKM is a key tool for an optimal life
One benefit of LKM is that loving-kindness reduces the stress response. Those who practice even a short course of LKM (say over the course of eight weeks) experience less distress than those who do not by the end of those eight weeks, according to this study. Probably no huge surprise there, right?
However, further exploration into this practice may intrigue you. The study on the effect of compassion meditation also investigated the impact of LKM on the body’s inflammatory and neuroendocrine system. At first preliminary results revealed that LKM showed no discernable differences in inflammation compared to the control group. However, when divided into high-practice group verses low-practice group (i.e., those who practiced LKM each day compared to those with minimal practice) the results became more striking. The high-practice group saw a significant decrease in inflammation compared to the low-practice and no-practice groups. This research highlights two important findings: First, that not only can LKM subjectively reduce distress but it can impact the body’s physiology as well (in this case, LKM reduced inflammation). The second, equally noteworthy finding is that this only happened for those who activity engaged in the practice of LKM. Simply attending a meditation class once a week was not enough to produce a change; students had to practice at least a little each day.
Another pivotal study in the investigation of LKM was conducted by Positive Psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson. Dr. Fredrickson and her team investigated the impact of LKM not only on emotions, but also on how this practice could actually build personal resources (cognitive, emotional, and physical). Her research team invited a group of people to practice LKM over the course of nine weeks. Participants in the LKM group had to practice at least a little every day, and researchers measured subjects on a variety of outcomes—including their experiences of positive emotions, their immunity to illness, and their relationships to others. Her question: Could LKM actually build a person’s personal resources?
It did. In their seminal research paper, Dr. Fredrickson and her team writes, “The practice of LKM led to shifts in people’s daily experiences of a wide range of positive emotions, including love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, interest, amusement, and awe. These shifts in positive emotions took time to appear and were not large in magnitude, but over the course of 9 weeks, they were linked to increases in a variety of personal resources, including mindful attention, self-acceptance, positive relationships with others, and good physical health…They enabled people to become more satisfied with their lives and to experience fewer symptoms of depression.” These findings are powerful.
The Brain on LKM
So we know that LKM positively impacts our emotions, our physical health, our sense of connection. But does that translate to an impact on the brain?
Neuroscientific meditation researcher Richard Davidson from the University of Wisconsin became interested in just that question. He has extensively studied the effect of meditation, including LKM, on the brain. He had a simple question: Would LKM change the brain? To investigate the exact implication of this practice on the brain he invited two groups of subjects into his lab: those who had at least 10,000 hours of LKM under their meditative belt and those who were interested, but new to meditation. He invited both these groups into the MRI scanner to see how LKM would impact the brain.
The results were clear. The practice of LKM changed several important brain regions: both the insula and the temporal parietal juncture (TPJ) lit up as a result of LKM. The insula is the part of the brain responsible for our ability to empathize with others, and to make oneself aware of emotional and physical present-moment experiences. While both groups saw an increase in insula activity, the group with 10,000 hours of experience showed significantly more activation than the other group. This group was experiencing higher levels of compassion than the non-practicing group.
A similar finding appeared for the TPJ. The TPJ, like the insula, is also related to our ability to process empathy and our ability to attune to the emotional states of others. Again, compared to short-term meditators, those with a long-term meditation practice showed significant activation of this brain region.
Loving-kindness creates feelings of social connection
Given this research, it is no surprise that LKM has been shown to increase social connectedness, even for strangers. A study conducted by a group of researchers from Stanford University found that in just seven minutes of LKM, subjects reported greater social connection toward others. Other studies have shown that the feeling of social connection can predict changes in a person vagal tone (a physiological measurement of resilience and overall well-being).
As a yoga teacher for Kripalu’s Frontline Provider Program, I have the opportunity to teach the Loving-Kindness practice to members of a workforce who are at high risk for compassion fatigue—health-care providers. In just the 10 minutes that I invite participants to practice LKM toward themselves and others, something powerful emerges. Some students begin to cry. Some bring their hand softly to their heart. Some physically relax. Afterward, when I invite the group to look around at each other, the sense of connection is palpable.
What is striking about the research and about the experience teaching is that these changes can happen in a short amount of time. Concentrated practice is essential. Even a few minutes creates a shift. And that shift is marked.
The Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying, “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” And indeed, it seems that in fact, with a little practice, LKM has the potential not only to improve our connection with ourselves, but to foster deeper connection and care for others as well.
“When you do what Buddhas do, then you are a Buddha.
There are no shortcuts.
Same is true for being Christ-like.
It has nothing to do with what you wear around your neck
(or how many Buddha statues are in your home).
It has everything to do with how you treat others and live your life.
There are no shortcuts.” ~Timber Hawkeye
I’m not quite sure why or how… but I am intensely attracted to elephants. The attraction continues to grow and they are now one of my most favored totems.
Elephants are the largest land mammal and biologically related to the extinct mammoths and mastodons. Today, there are only two elephant species that continue to exist: the African elephant and the Asian elephant. They live naturally throughout sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Male African elephants are the largest surviving terrestrial animals and can reach 13 ft tall and weigh more than 15,000 lbs.
Both elephant species are significantly endangered as their natural habitat vanishes to human development and are all too often victims of ivory poachers or brokers from the zoo/circus/entertainment industries.
All elephants have several unusual features – the most notable is a long trunk – proboscis. Trunks have a variety of uses – breathing, lifting water to drink, grasping objects and food, play/wrestling and touch. Elephant incisors (teeth) grow into massive tusks, which they use as weapons, tools for moving objects and digging. Their huge ear flaps help control their body temperature as they are filled with millions of tiny corpuscles helping cool their blood. Their massive legs carry enormous body weight but also allow them to run and charge as needed. African elephants have larger ears and concave backs. Asian elephants have smaller ears and convex or level backs.
They are herbivorous and can be found in different habitats including savannahs, forests, deserts and marshes. They prefer to stay near water and have the ability to remember the location of water sources from year to year or season to season. They’re considered a keystone species due to their impact on their environments. Other animals tend to keep their distance. Predators like lions, tigers, hyenas and wild dogs usually target only young elephants (calves).
Females (cows) live in very complex family groups that evidence extraordinary communication, social order and hierarchy. These families can consist of one female with her calves or several related and unrelated females with offspring. Aunts and cousins abound. The elephant family is led by the matriarch who is frequently but not always the oldest cow. They have a fission-fusion society in which multiple family groups come together to socialize frequently. Careful observation demonstrates that females teach calves a wide range of social behaviors.
Males (bulls) leave their family groups when they reach puberty and wander off to live alone or with other males in small groups. Adult bulls mostly interact with family groups when looking for a mate and enter a state of increased testosterone and aggression called “musth,” which helps them gain dominance and reproductive success over rivals.
Elephant babies (calves) are the center of attention in the group and dependent on their mothers up to 3 years. The collective family cares for the well-being of the calf and females will go to great lengths to protect young.
They’re known to live 70 years or older in the wild. They communicate by touch, sight, smell and sound. In fact, elephants touch each other with amazing frequency. They use infrasound and seismic communication over very long distances. Elephant intelligence has been compared with that of primates and cetaceans. They appear to have self-awareness and demonstrate empathy-like behaviors for dying or dead individuals of their kind. Of note: it takes a baby elephant years to learn to master the full use of its trunk for its many uses.
Elephants symbolize strength, confidence, royalty, strong libido, fertility, sheer majestic power and the keepers of ancient memories and sacred ancient wisdom. Elephants know. Elephants remember. Elephants understand. They are believed to be gentle giants with extraordinary intuition and psychic abilities for communication and comprehension. They create and sustain profoundly deep meaningful relationships and interconnections over long periods of time and long distances. They represent compassion, kindness and gentle respect. They’re extraordinarily graceful and remarkably quiet despite massive bodies and lengthy trunks. Elephants are believed to have real feelings, be empathic and to cry.
I believe one day we’ll have the technology available to communicate with animals. In those days, elephants will be our master teachers.