Kindness. After the year we’ve had, we need it, and we need a lot of it. We all know that 2020 has been a rough year for everyone, and next year will probably be similarly difficult at least for a portion of the year.
So, what can we actively do to be more kind to ourselves and others? My suggestion is to take up the practice of mindfulness, specifically a practice called metta, or lovingkindness.
The science behind mindfulness is becoming pretty impressive, and compassion-based practices like lovingkindness are showing promise to slowly rewire the brain to be generally kinder to ourselves and others and to also help us respond to stress differently. I won’t get into the research, but it’s out there and there have been some pretty great books written on the subject.
Let’s get into the practice itself. Find a fairly quiet and comfortable spot. You don’t have to sit cross-legged or anything, just get comfortable, but not so comfortable that you fall asleep. Close your eyes and think of your home and the people in it, including yourself. Pick some caring phrases like “May we be happy,” “May we be healthy,” “May we be safe” and “May we live with ease.”
They don’t have to be these exact phrases, just something close. Silently direct these phrases to the people in your household for a few minutes.
Next, widen your scope a bit to your neighborhood. Direct those same phrases to neighbors that you know and those that you don’t.
The neighbors that you don’t know are important to the practice, so don’t leave them out. Do this for a minute or two.
Now, widen out to your town. Think of store clerks, bus drivers and other people that you may see only occasionally. Direct these phrases to them.
It gets a little abstract from here out, so think about the collective people in your state for a few minutes. Direct the phrases to them. Then the entire country. Keep widening out to the whole world.
Direct these kind phrases to the idea of everyone. If this gives you a good feeling, then notice that feeling, but don’t get too distracted by it. If this makes you a little uncomfortable, that’s OK. Just notice it.
You will get distracted in this practice. No problem. Just notice that you are distracted and bring your attention back to the phrases. You didn’t mess anything up, so don’t beat yourself up about it. That’s kind of the point.
Try to make it a point to do this practice or a similar practice as often as you can now and into the new year.
You might not notice a big difference right away, but many people report that their friends and family members notice that something is kinder and gentler about them before they notice for themselves.
Lovingkindness isn’t some esoteric, “out there” practice. It is an exercise for our brain, and science is showing us that this exercise might just make a big difference to lessen our stress and anxiety levels and make us a bit kinder to those around us. That sounds like a great goal for the new year to me.