As you face challenge, whether in your families, businesses, organizations, or countries, you may feel hopeless, small, and powerless. You may feel fear begin to seep into your thoughts, feelings and responses to everyday life. When you allow yourself to be led by fear however you increase the chances of making judgments–thoughts based in prejudice–about others as a way to feel in control. Making someone else wrong is a backward way of gaining safety, in fact, it’s immature. I mean, look where it’s got us so far?!
The phenomenon of prejudice is rampant and currently infectious. But can meditation and/or mindfulness help?
Many moons ago, I talked to you about the practice of loving-kindness which is known as metta in the Pali language of India. I like Buddhist Steven Smith’s definition. He explains that metta means, “The state or art of being a friend, or connection… it’s a basic sense of human warmth, one heart to all of life.” Metta is really a feeling of connection, spirit, kinship, and benevolence without conditions or expectation. Loving-kindness meditation is a way to invite and cultivate this sense of unity.
Research shows that loving-kindness meditation not only deepens feelings of social connection but breaks down the often deeply ingrained, very difficult biases that might be held. How? By cultivating an emotional connection that shows you different possibilities to connect and to look at others in a new way.
Empathy, not Prejudice
One of the main results is increased empathy; your ability to take a new perspective, put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and the emotional reaction to someone else’s suffering. The more empathy you feel for another, the harder it is for you to have prejudice. What I like about this result is that it takes out the us-versus-them dichotomy (that we seem to create very easily and quickly lately!)
Another aspect of prejudice worth looking at is anxiety. Of course, many of you feel it when you are about to meet people who are different from you. You may respond with avoidance or stereotyping. Loving-kindness points you in the direction of compassion and empathy so you can begin to create new perspectives and respond with courage and compassion.
Practicing mettas or other mindfulness exercises cultivates non-judgmental self-awareness that may serve as a model for looking at others as they are, without the lens of stereotypes, bias, and fear. At least, the calmness of mind and spiritedness can assuage the anxiety and other fears that lead to prejudice.
Allow me to repeat the Loving-Kindness meditation. Repeat the following phrases:
- May I/you be safe (free from inner and outer harm).
- May I/you be happy (free from mental disturbance and distress).
- May I/you be strong and healthy (experience love’s capacity to heal the body/mind).
- May I/you be able to care for oneself joyfully (live with ease and well-being).
These intentions are to be done in sequence, starting with yourself. Remember you are saying it with a felt sense of the wish. Then move on to family, friends, colleagues and finally a person or persons with whom you have difficulty.
Although there are not enough studies that conclude you can meditate away prejudice, it can change the way you feel about others. And that is where it all begins! The practice of loving-kindness is more than just the meditation. It is a way of life, a way of being. Don’t practice metta to lessen prejudice; practice it to bring out an inner spirit of oneness!
I hope this article took you to a place of remembering the power of being human and humane. I hope it touched that place where you wake up to who you really are and step forward in nothing less than love and your greatness…
For all humankind!