Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Director of the Social Psychology Doctoral Program and the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory, President-Elect, International Positive Psychology Association Kenan-Flagler School of Business
One thing that's been a really big influence for
me on developing this new take on what love might be,
thinking of love more as something that is a micro moment connection or transaction.
But, between people is,
has been the fact that my research has been using meditation as I mentioned,
in an earlier week, to teach people skills for self generating positive emotions.
And when I first started this work I thought that this meditation practice that
we were using was just a list, you know, good for increasing all positive emotions.
But it seems like it has a particular ability to
kind of warm people up to connect more with others.
And through the research that we've done on it, and
I'm going to share with you some of the health effects next week.
But through the research that we have done are that this is
the findings have convinced me that there's something particularly,
compelling about these shared positive emotional states.
But I want to do now is just introduce a little bit more
about this meditation practice.
It's called, in different traditions, its called metta or
maitre or loving-kindness meditation, or sometimes just kindness meditation.
But that's the, the particular ancient practice that we'd been bringing into our,
you know, current scientific studies as you know, basically,
it occurred to me that we didn't need to reinvent the wheel, [LAUGH] and
try to come up with some new way to, to increase positivity in people's lives.
That, that these ancient practices that go back millenia kind of,
kind of do the, the same thing.
So one thing a lot of meditation, well,
there's a lot of different kinds of meditation practice.
This one is one that relies on phrases.
So just like in some meditations,
you just bring your attention to the breathe over and over again.
This meditation, you,
you bring your attention to a set of, classic wishes, if you will, or phrases.
These are the ones that, are kind of the drum beat of loving kindness medication.
You, you change up who the targets you're thinking of,
but, you know, some version of these phrases is, you know,
may you feel safe, may you feel happy, may you feel healthy, may you live with ease.
I mean, these are just kind of, the, the the classic ways of,
kind of sending well wishes to others.
Now that's makes it all sound so very simple.
[LAUGH] it's not you know, it's something that people learn over several weeks, and,
and through their own practice of it, but I think it's useful just to lay
out some framing thoughts about what this meditation practice is, what it isn't.
One is that mediation itself is not a religion.
I mean, sometimes there's confusion about that.
But I, but it also, it can deepen any faith tradition that you, you know, happen
to be part of or it can be used completely outside of any particular tradition.
So it's, it's, it's just, it's a behavior.
It's a way of spending time with yourself,
of, and developing intentions and concentration.
And one of the key things that it's useful for I think is just to escape the,
the kind of chronic sense of self absorption that we kind of all have.
That you know, we walk around the world,
so, you know, rapped up in our own to do list or our own concerns and
it's just a kind of a steady reminder that oh, you know,
what I'm not the only person in this world and you know, maybe I could kind of
break out of that cocoon of, of self adsorption and, and connect with others.
So it's, it's kind of a way to build that the kind of
natural tendency to be a little bit more other focused than self focused.
And it's interesting that the ancient teachings of
loving kindness tell you to start with loving kindness for the self.
And then build up to loving kindness for others.
And one thing that's kind of interesting in,
in Western cultures is that people really get, have a hard time with that sometimes.
And the logic is, you know, not to start with the most difficult target in it.
It, it was kind of presumed that it would be easy to wish yourself well, you know.
And so you should really start with the target for
whom, you know, it's easy to, to, it's like to start with something easy and
make it and then stretch that over time.
Sort of, another way to think about that is that, you know,
there are people in our lives who we just naturally love and wish the, the best for.
And that's, kind of, we get that sort of automatically as just, sort of,
being in community or being in family.
And so that's, it's to try to take those kind of natural feelings, and
then extend them to people who you might not necessarily feel that.
You might feel kind of indifferent towards.
So it's kind of just a stretch that feeling, you typically reserve for
that inner circle, you stretch it our a little a little further.
now, we've talked about sincerity already but
this is a key place where sincerity really matters.
It's not about saying the words.
[LAUGH] You know, it's about using those words as a,
as a springboard for, a genuine feeling.
Sort of, you know, I mean the best we can do really is set
an intention that I'd like to feel these good feelings.
You know, you don't know if you actually will.
You know, so it's not about kind of strong arming, like I'm going to feel this way.
I'm going to feel kind.
[LAUGH] You know, that, that, that needs to be, you know,
like when we talked about prioritizing positivity versus, you know, you know,
really have to feel this way or not.
This is just really like setting the conditions, like this practice is for
the setting the conditions and then seeing what follows from that.
Sometimes people have a kind of a bristly reaction to
this practice because they think of it as really saccharine or very, you know, fake.
And it's, or they think it's sounds like magical thinking,
like especially when you get to, you know, thinking about oh, may.
All beings feel safe.
Do you, do I really think, that if I say that, all beings will be safe?
You know, like is it,
the some kind of, you know, metaphysical thing going on here?
That it's, you know, there's no need to, necessarily think that some, in some way,
if you repeat this phrase in your head, that it's going to change somebody else.
The, I, the point of it is to change you.
You know, to change, you know, your own, degree of warmth and, and
other focus or concern with others in, when you're not practicing.
So it's just kind of, kind of building a habit.
So, rather than getting hung up on whether what you've wished actually came true,
[LAUGH] you know, it's more just focus on,
oh yeah, this, this is, this is softening me, this is changing my perspective.
Now another thing that I think is key to, that can help take the edge off it
feeling fake or forced, is to, kind of situate
the practice with a sense of equanimity or openness that, you know, just because
you're focusing on these wishes doesn't mean that suffering has disappeared.
That, you know, people are still hurting.
That's all the more reason to wish them well.
You know, so you don't have to be, you know, like resilience isn't about
sweeping away the negativity, this practice can be practiced, you know,
with full awareness of difficulties of, and, and suffering.
so, I, you know, I know that many people have meditation practices.
I was wondering if there's any other framing thoughts that you think would be
useful to, for, for those who might be trying it for the first time?
>> I'd say to not have expectations of it being any certain way.
And then also particularly with loving kindness.
That it's okay for all sorts of feelings to come up that you
might have difficult feelings come up around somebody and that, that's okay too.
>> Right, right and again it's not about forcing a feeling it's more like setting
conditions that maybe over time kind of warm people up,
but, you know, when people, when people start having a negative reaction.
I mean, one approach to that is to say,
okay, just, let me just say these phrases for myself right now.
>> Mm-hm. >> You know, may I have feel at peace?
May I feel it's safe, you know?
>> Yeah. >> Just kind of
realizing where being attuned to that, not trying to think oh, I'm doing this wrong.
>> Yeah, you don't have to feel bad about anything that comes up.
>> Right, right.
>> This, this is definitely not my thing.
>> So it'll be a stretch.
I think the closest I get to it,
if I do stand up paddle board, I'm on my, by myself.
>> Uh-huh. >> Sunrise at the lake.
>> I, I, can get in the moment.
>> I think I'm still thinking do to list, maybe.
>> Yeah. Yeah.
>> So, and this is hard for me to do.
>> Yeah. Okay.
Well, I'll be curious what your reactions are then.
Any other thoughts?
So I think what can be useful too, before, taking I'm,
what I want to do is, lead just a very short practice of this.
Just to give a flavor for it.
You know, it's not you know, it's, it'll just give a, a little bit of a taste.
But I think what can be useful is setting, take a moment to set your intention for
what, what is it that you want to cultivate in yourself,
through this practice of, just kind of set an intention, not an expectation.
But just this intention of like, oh, this is why I am doing this.