By Mary Montgomery
Last month’s column paid tribute to a local Chicago hero, the late James “Major” Adams, whose loving and kind ways made him a legend on the west side. I also shared my experiences with the Abraham-Hicks techniques (abraham-hicks.com), and how they are not only helping me become a more masterful manifester, they are also helping me be more loving and kind. I touched on the fact that there are many techniques that can help us become more loving and kind. I also promised to share some of those techniques, as well as some of the science that supports the benefits of love and kindness.
When you google “Loving Kindness,” or “Love and Kindness,” the technique that comes up first and foremost is the Loving-Kindness Meditation (a nice version is available at liveanddare.com/types-of-meditation/#Loving_Kindness_Meditation_Metta_Meditation). There is a lot of research that supports the value of the Loving-Kindness Meditation. As I explored other love and kindness links, I came upon a wealth of scientific research that supports the benefits of loving kindness in general.
Here is the Loving-Kindness Meditation in a nutshell:
Sit down in a meditation position, with closed eyes, and generate in your mind and heart feelings of kindness and benevolence. Start by developing loving-kindness towards yourself, then progressively towards others and all beings. Here is the recommended progression: oneself; a good friend; a “neutral” person; a difficult person; all four of the above equally; and then gradually the entire universe.
The idea is to develop a feeling of wishing happiness and well-being for all. Of course, practice makes perfect.
The benefits? There are at least 18 of them, according to a blog in HuffPost Healthy Living, by Emma Seppälä, Associate Director, Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (huffingtonpost.com/emma-seppala-Ph.D./18-sciencebased-reasons-t_b_5823952.html) or at (mindful.org/18-science-based-reasons-to-try-loving-kindness-meditation/). Here are just a few them:
Increases Positive Emotions & Decreases Negative Emotions
In a landmark study, Barbara Frederickson and her colleagues, (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18954193) found that practicing seven weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe. These positive emotions then produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms), which, in turn, predicted increased life satisfaction, and reduced depressive symptoms.
Hmmm… Very interesting. One of the key Abraham-Hicks techniques is to focus on positive emotions. By golly, in some ways, the Loving-Kindness Meditation can be favorably compared to those Rampages of Appreciation that I wrote about last month.
Recent research indicates that the Loving-Kindness Meditation helps severe physical or mental illness. Seppälä’s blog cites four research studies that demonstrate that this meditation technique decreases migraines, chronic pain, PTSD, and schizophrenia-spectrum disorders.
Emotional Intelligence in the Brain
Regularly practicing the Loving-Kindness Meditation can help activate and strengthen areas of the brain responsible for empathy & emotional intelligence. Seppälä cites two research studies that demonstrate that this meditation activates empathy and emotional processing in the brain. Another study shows that the Loving-Kindness Meditation increases gray matter volume in areas of the brain related to emotion regulation.
Wow! I don’t know about you, but this sure convinces me that cultivating love and kindness is beneficial. I don’t think the Loving-Kindness Meditation is the only technique that can be used. For example, I am finding my own loving-kindness quotient on the rise since I’ve started using those Abraham-Hicks techniques.
A really interesting facet of my research was the realization that up until recently both love and kindness were ignored by most scientists. This was brought home to me through an article on mindful.org. In “The Science of Love,” Barry Boyce points out the impact of the 1961 experiment by Yale social psychologist Stanley Milgram. You’re probably heard of this one. It was right after the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, and Milgram wanted to find out how much pain test subjects would be willing to inflict on other people at the behest of an authority figure. The participants acted as “teachers” who were instructed to administer increasingly severe electric shocks to “learners” if they gave a wrong answer. The shocks produced screams from the learner (really a tape recording). If the “teacher” resisted applying more shocks, the experimenter verbally prodded them to do so, issuing increasingly stern commands.
The results: 65% of participants overcame their reluctance and administered the maximum voltage. Milgram’s conclusion:” …relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.”
This experiment was part of the prevailing psychological and neuroscientific view, which researched moral fiber and conscience with a focus on dysfunction, pathology, and neurosis.
Today, however, more and more scientists are bucking the traditional negative trend, and conducting experiments that look at what makes us more positive, good, loving, and kind. Some of these pioneers have been profiled in previous CyberWeave columns including the work of Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (centerhealthyminds.org), and the work of Dr. Stephen Post, author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People (whygoodthingshappen.com).
Here are three others that I came across while doing this Internet research:
The Center for Mindful Self-Compassion (centerformsc.org): Established in 2012 by Kristin Neff, Ph.D., and Christopher K Germer, Ph.D., the center investigates both the effects of self-compassion, and possible methods for training people, especially children, to be self-compassionate.
According to Dr. Neff, self-compassion involves having the same compassion for yourself as you would have for others. Self-compassion, therefore, involves behaving in a compassionate way toward one’s self when you are having a difficult time. For example, instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings.
The Center’s website is filled with resources that can help us practice self-compassion. In addition, each of the founders have their own resource-filled websites. Dr. Neff’s is self-compassion.org, and Dr. Germer’s is mindfulselfcompassion.org. In addition, each has written a book on the subject. Dr. Germer’s is the Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions. Dr. Neff’s is Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.
Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley (greatergood.berkeley.edu): The center aims to report on groundbreaking scientific research into the roots of compassion and altruism, and to share inspiring stories of compassion in action on their website. The lead article at the website when I visited it was, “How to Cultivate Global Compassion,” an interview with Paul Ekman, Professor Emeritus in Psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, and an expert on emotion recognition. The focus of the interview was Dr. Ekman’s explanation of how we can extend compassion beyond our circle of family and friends. One of the interesting personalities connected with the center is its founding faculty director, Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., author of Born to Be Good: the Science of a Meaningful Life. You can check out his work by doing a search on YouTube. One interesting Dacher video is of a 2009 Google Tech Talk. In it, Dacher responds to several Google Techs who obviously are still steeped in the “Human is Basically Bad” scientific view.
The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University (ccare.stanford.edu): Their mission is two-fold: research and education designed to cultivate compassion and promote altruism within individuals and society. The website has a whole section filled with peer-reviewed research papers with titles like “Social connection and compassion: Important predictors of health and well-being.” The video section offers selections like “His Holiness 17th Karmapa on Caring Connections: Compassion, Technology and the Environment.” In addition, the center offers an 8-week Compassion Cultivation Training course, as well as a Teacher Certification Program.
Remember that 1960’s Milgram experiment that I wrote about earlier in this column? Well, a colleague of Milgram, the renowned social psychologist Philip Zimbardo, and his colleague, Piero Bocchiaro recently updated that 1961 study using assessment tools to measure people’s empathy. Zimbardo’s and Bocchiaro’s research was funded by CCARE, and their peer-reviewed article, “Defying Unjust Authority: An Exploratory Study,” can be viewed on the CCARE site. The results: Although 30% of the sample followed commands to insult the other participant (confederate), the majority did refuse to do so at some point in the escalating hostility sequence.
Well, that’s good news, and a step in the right direction—the direction toward greater love and kindness that we all should be taking.
My Advice: I’m going to continue using those Abraham-Hicks techniques, like Rampages of Appreciation, because they sure are helping me be a more loving and kind person. I invite you to find the techniques that work for you. Explore the websites that I mentioned in this column. Maybe something in that exploration will inspire you to find steps you can use to become even more loving and kind.
Mary Montgomery’s company, Montgomery Media Enterprises, specializes in public relations, writing projects, and social media development, especially in the non-profit sector. Ms. Montgomery has a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies from Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS). She has completed the coursework in doctoral studies with a focus on Altruism and Unconditional Love. Contact her via email at MMontgomery@SpiritualTravelerGuides.com. Please use Cyberweave in the subject line. You can also visit her at her new blog, SpiritualTravelerGuides.com.