Episode #4 of the course 10 easy meditations to bring calm to your everyday life by John Robin
Welcome to Day 4 of the course!
Yesterday, we explored eating meditation. I hope you practiced it with your meals and snacks. I hope you’re also still practicing open awareness meditation during those idle moments and practicing directed awareness periodically. Just think of the gold mine of opportunities you have to train your mind.
Today, we’re going to go to a whole other level. Metta meditation, as you’ll soon discover, is not only easy to do any time, any place, but is also critical to developing more self-control.
Channel the Power of the Prefrontal Cortex
Our brains are built a bit like onions. At the core is the most basic part, called the inner brain. It regulates hunger, breathing, body temperature, and unconscious functions relating to survival. Encasing this are parts of the cortex. These brain regions regulate the basic processing of visual, auditory, and sensory information, including memory storage. And the layer outside of all this is the neocortex. That is the gray part of your brain you’d see if you took your brain out right now and held it in your hand. It is where our thoughts live. Here, we perceive, analyze, create, and visualize. There’s one part of the neocortex that is the apex of it all: the prefrontal cortex.
This part of the brain is very small. Place your index fingers together above your eyebrows and feel the part of your forehead there. You are hovering over the entirety of the prefrontal cortex.
This is the pinnacle of the brain. This is where we think about thinking. This is where we access our highest awareness of self, of being. This is where we find control over decisions and urges.
This is where mindfulness happens on the highest of levels, through a practice called metta meditation. You can read more about the science of this in a Scientific American article linked at the end of the lesson .
Metta is a Pali word, written मेत्ता. It means “benevolence,” “loving-kindness,” “friendliness,” “goodwill,” and “active interest in others.” Tapping into the power of this word, then, is about finding the space within where we tie empathy and love to all beings.
Brain-imaging research has shown that metta meditation activates the full force of the prefrontal cortex. Before I explain why, experience this meditation for yourself.
1. Start with the following:
“May I be safe.
May I be healthy.
May I be happy.
May l live with ease.”
2. Now, think of a friend or someone very close to you, then recite:
“May he/she be safe.
May he/she be healthy.
May he/she be happy.
May he/she live with ease.”
3. Now, think of your worst enemy or someone who you really dislike right now.
4. With them in mind, recite:
“May they be safe.
May they be healthy.
May they be happy.
May they live with ease.”
5. Finally, to end, recite:
“May all beings be safe.
May all beings be healthy.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings live with ease.”
Do it now.
What did you notice? Did you feel strange wishing health and ease on your worst enemy? Did you feel a sense of calm as you stopped and wished health and happiness on yourself? Did it feel unusual yet liberating, extending wishes of well-being to all?
Welcome to the power of metta meditation. Since I promised you an explanation, here’s what the science tells us is happening during this meditation:
A specific center in the prefrontal cortex, called the inferior frontal gyrus, becomes larger. Gyrus is a term that refers to a specific fold of the brain’s wrinkled gray surface, so in this case, think of this as a small fold of brain in that strip above your forehead. This part of the brain is associated with thinking about others’ mental states. At the same time as this gyrus is activated, part of the amygdala shrinks. The amygdala is a small knob-shaped part of the inner brain that causes extreme emotions like fear, anger, and desire.
In short, when we activate the power of metta meditation, we are gaining control of our survival instincts. We are rising above self-orientation and reframing our understanding of self in the context of an other-orientation. We become more transcendent. The more we invest in metta meditation, the more we increase our power over impulses.
We learned about metta meditation, which is easy to practice at any time, in any place, by way of wishing the four intentions of safety, health, happiness, and ease on four categories of beings: ourselves, those close to us, those we dislike, and everyone.
Your homework is to try this throughout the day. Pay specific attention to when you’re feeling stressed or angry. Train yourself to react to this as a cue to run through the metta meditation list in your mind. Take deep breaths as you do this to enhance relaxation and focus on the meaning of the words.
Tomorrow, we’re going to tap further into the power of words, by way of transcendental meditation.
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