This isn't the health tip that I had planned for April but because of the circumstances in the US this week, I've shifted in another direction. My heart goes out to those affected by the mass shooting at the elementary school in Nashville on Monday. Shootings like this bring back horrific memories of the mass shooting here in Las Vegas in 2017. Thankfully I was not at that music festival but know some who were. In the wake of this week's heartbreaking news, it leaves me feeling powerless and asking how can we prevent something like this from happening again?
Not allowing guns that rapidly fire in the hands of any citizen would be a huge step in the right direction. Assault rifles not only fire more rapidly and have magazines with more bullets, they shoot bullets at greater speeds, which means these bullets hit harder. These guns are designed to kill not injure. Would we allow individuals to buy nukes, no that sounds absurd! So how and why are people possessing guns that rapidly kill large numbers of people?
My cousin Sarah captured the feeling perfectly...
The fact of the matter is that if we could heal our hearts and love one another, there wouldn't be a demand for these weapons and the gun industry wouldn't have a reason to produce them. Yes it's idealistic but it's true and that's why I'm bringing up loving-kindness meditation and how I came to find it.
I was raised in a religious household and as a child thrived in religion because of prayer. I was taught to thank a higher being for the people in my life and to pray for them so I did with a child's sincerity that I wish I still had. This daily appreciation and pleading for their wellbeing made me feel deeply connected to my friends and family. I saw the goodness in others easily and was able to be more patient and understanding as I recognized that we all have struggles and challenges. Deep in my heart, I wanted the best for others. When I was a young adult, organized religion lost its charm but as I looked back, it was easy to see that all that time I spent praying was good for me and I longed for a new way to do it. I now see that what I was doing was a form of loving-kindness meditation, a pause to visualize being loved and visualizing that for others. Research has shown that benefits of this practice (even when done is small amounts) are huge. It increases feelings of social connection and positive emotions while decreasing negative emotions, activates empathy and compassion, decreases bias, curbs self-criticism, increases gray matter in the brain, makes us more resilient and relaxed, slows aging, makes us more helpful, decreases migraines, chronic pain, and PTSD, and best of all, it has long lasting impact.
I strongly encourage you to watch Dan Harris share his story about finding loving-kindness meditation, the benefits he's experienced, and how it can shape the world. He states in this TED talk, "Relationships are probably the most important variable when it comes to human flourishing." When humans lack the social support they need, they often resort to lashing out on others and even violence. Loving-kindness meditation is the antidote and it is simple to do. Dan describes the steps in this type of meditation. First, find a reasonably quiet place, sit comfortably, close your eyes, and start by picturing someone easy, maybe a good friend or a pet, and repeat in your mind, "may you be happy, may you be safe, may you be healthy, may you live with ease." Once you feel some warmth, picture yourself and repeat the phrases. Repeat this process with a mentor or someone who's helped you in your life, then a neutral person that you might overlook, then a difficult person, and then finish with all beings everywhere.
May you be happy, may you be safe, may you be healthy, and may you live with ease.