Tag Archives: metta

How to HEAL (With a Challenge)

Hardwiring Happiness


Hardwiring Happiness is a book about taking your everyday experiences and using them to build inner strengths. When you have certain characteristics like self-compassion and curiosity, you can call upon them during times of frustration and difficulty–but more importantly, they serve you well in everyday moments. Learning to appreciate the small things your partner does, pulling back on an argument with your child, and taking courageous steps towards accomplishing your goals all become easier when you have a wealth of inner resources.

How it Works

If you have a passing familiarity with pop neuroscience, you know the phrase “neurons that fire together wire together.” Your brain is an association machine and when we make associations, we learn. In his book, Dr. Rick Hanson calls upon you to use the brain’s knack for association to resource yourself–to H.E.A.L. the parts of yourself that are wounded and thrive in your daily life.

Metta meditation asks you to cultivate compassion. You do this by focusing on your heart, repeating the same phrase, and being aware of what compassion feels like in the body. The sustained attention to the emotion helps it grow and fill you up.

Hardwiring Happiness is asking you to apply the same general practice to your other inner strengths.

(In the Alert Authentic Mindful Group on Facebook, we are doing a 21-day challenge inspired by Dr. Rick Hanson’s book. Hardwiring Happiness. Please join us!)

Why You Should Do It

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Dr. Hanson spends the first part of the book going over some of the science and answering the question Why we want to learn the skills he is going to teach us in the second half of the book.

Our brains have a negativity bias. This is in our evolutionary past *not* noticing a pretty flower is okay; *not* noticing a tiger means death. Hardwiring Happiness is not about ignoring tigers. There are and always will be negative things in our lives that we need to pay attention to–and actually, some experiences that feel bad are good for us in the long run.

That does not mean that we should ignore the positive or leave it to our brains to notice it. We want to help our minds pay attention to the lightness and the dark–to quit giving undue attention and power to the negative.

The Human Default

Our world is vastly different today than in our evolutionary past. For our ancestors, serious stress was related to serious stress. Tigers, fear of banishment, and snakes. Sadly, our brains cannot tell the difference between these very real threats to our lives and too much traffic on the highway. We have so many stressors today, including but not limited to the intense and frequent technology stress that we get from renewing our Facebook page. Stress reactions used to be occasional but they are now frequent. Our bodies are now in a constant state of reactivity which is not good for our health, mental or physical.

Responsiveness, as opposed to reactivity, used to be our norm. There weren’t lions around every corner. In social situations, we were less knee-jerk and more of the present and open.

This book will help give you the tools to return to that state or responsiveness by paying attention to the positive around us and turning mental states into neural traits by helping strengthen the bonds between neurons that focus on the beneficial in your daily life.

The Method

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Follow this simple acronym: HEAL

H: Have an experience

E: Enrich

A: Absorb

L: Link

Have an experience: This is the easy part. This month, some experiences will just crop up during the course of your day; some you might have to create for yourself.

Enrich: Think of moments when you naturally feel complete. People often have them on vacation or during the holidays–they look around at their family members and their surroundings and are overwhelmed with gratitude.

You can create this kind of feeling by taking time out of your day to enrich positive experiences. While it may not envelop you in the way it does when it comes naturally, you can make it a much bigger part of your life.

Absorb: This step will often happen at the same time as enrich. As you are making the experience bigger and more embodied, visualize it sinking into you. Maybe you like the idea of gold dust sinking into your center; or maybe you want to picture electricity pulsing in your brain and creating your experience. Whatever it is, try to make the beneficial feeling more apart of you.

Link: One of the reasons that our memories of the past are so bad is because each time we recall them, we can modify them. We can use this little quirk of our brain to heal parts of us that are hard to handle.

When you “link,” you hold the positive experience in the forefront of your mind and call up a negative experience–holding it on the sidelines. Over time, this will gradually make those parts sting less.

HEALing is not about denying the negative in our lives, just paying the beneficial its due. 

(Please join us! We are already on day 4 of our challenge!)

If you have the time, listen to Dr. Rick Hanson go over some of the concepts on his podcast.

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Metta

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Mindfulness meditation is a big focus of this blog because it gives you a lot of benefits that are well-studied.

But mindfulness meditation is not the only kind of meditation available. Today, I want to talk about one of the other types that I find useful.

This meditation is about filling you with loving-kindness. It is called metta. It is a meditation that is used to cultivate compassion. Compassion is a very important part of leadership; it is one of the best way to relate to children—better then empathy. We use compassion so that we can feel for people, instead of feeling with them.

It is one of the easiest meditations to do without being guided.

You can use some variation of these words:

“May I be happy, may I be free. May I be comfortable, and at peace.”

Traditionally, you expand outward from there. To a loved one, you send the thoughts:

“May you be happy, may you be free. May you be comfortable, and at peace.”

I usually just set a ten minute timer, but any meditation app will have loving kindness meditations, and there are tons on Youtube.

Then you move outward from there. To an acquaintance, you say in your head:

“May you be happy, may you be free. May you be comfortable, and at peace.”

You keep expanding your circle outwards, even to those with whom you have conflict. You say:

“May you be happy, may you be free. May you be comfortable, and at peace.”

All the while, you are still practicing mindfulness. How does it feel, in your body, to wish yourself peace? How does it feel to wish your enemy peace?

You can become all-inclusive. Picture the whole world. Everyone you’ve ever loved, hated, or seen; and of course, your self.

“May we be happy, may we be free. May we be comfortable and at peace.”

Metta is most important to me on my hardest days.

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If ever I am having a hard time with my partner, I use metta to make sure I don’t let feelings go sour. Sometimes we can accidentally let occasional thoughts become habitual thought-patterns. This is one way to protect against that.

If ever I am feeling frustrated around my child’s sleep, I use metta to make sure I remember that he isn’t giving me a hard time, he is having a hard time.

Oftentimes, I don’t move past the first one. Loving kindness’ biggest advantage is for my feelings towards myself.

I sometimes feel like a bad mom. And when I do, I skip my mindfulness meditation. I skip most of the metta meditation. I just focus on feeling good towards myself. More than anything, I need to Love Myself Like My Life Depended On It, because if I’m not at my best, I can’t be at my best for my child.

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Practicing radical self-acceptance is tough. It might be tough to accept it is a good idea. You might think that practicing self-acceptance gives you some kind of pass to not improve. But it is the opposite. When you don’t think your self-worth is attached to your performance, you are more likely to identify your faults and try to improve yourself. You aren’t locked in by your self-identification as smart, or strong, or whatever it is that it is a label you feel necessary to uphold. It’s the growth mindset.

Just as for our children, acceptance does not mean accepting all behavior, it means accepting emotions.

Set up a routine for metta. Put it into your rotation, or just call upon it when you need it most.