There’s no arguing it any more- mindfulness is the hottest trend in wellness, and I personally hope it’s one that is here to stay. More and more people are exploring how this simple idea can transform their day-to-day lives, intrigued by both the research findings and their own personal revelations. And when it comes to the science end of things, there is a quickly growing pile of serious academic journal articles that support the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. Over the past few years, studies have shown that these contemplative practices can lower stress, prevent disease, boost creativity, and enhance our moods. But the perks of meditation don’t just work on our individual selves- they can impact our collective consciousness as well. Especially when we look at a kind of meditation called loving-kindness or “metta”, the power to change our social world becomes even more apparent. This style of meditation focuses on growing kindness and equanimity within us- something that we can all agree is a good thing! These innate emotions and feelings of connectedness and goodwill are accessible within all of us, and when we allow them to come forth, we can change not only our brains, but also our community around us.
If you’re not convinced that loving-kindness meditation can shift our social behaviors for the better, here are three studies that might just make you change your mind! This compassion training has been shown to:
- Decrease your bias towards other people
Our society has certain stigmatized groups based upon skin color, socioeconomic status, and many more. But 6 weeks of loving-kindness meditation has been shown to decrease the amount of bias we feel when confronted with these groups. Researchers divided subjects (from non-marginalized demographics) into 3 sections: those that practiced the meditation, those that participated in discussion about loving-kindness, and controls. After the 6-week period, those who actively practiced the meditation showed significantly less social bias than the other two groups. This suggested that compassion based mindfulness practice can tamp down our implicit attitudes towards others and promote a feeling of equality and oneness.
- Increase your feelings of empathy
Being able to identify with the emotions of others is a helpful social aspect, especially in the face of disaster or threat. Researchers were able to demonstrate that after compassion training, subjects showed a more pronounced and more positive reaction to seeing others in distress. Essentially, this type of meditation developed the areas of the brain that are responsible for cooperation, social involvement, and empathy. We have specific neural networks designed to fire when we see a fellow person in need, and loving-kindness strengthens those pathways. And over time, this kind of meditation can help you become a more helpful and caring member of your social community.
- Boost your pro-social behavior
We humans are social creatures, but sometimes it seems like more people are working against each other than with each other. Compassion training can change that, as shown by a group of researchers in 2011. They compared two groups: one that had received compassion training, and one that had received memory training- and measured their responses during a simulated social experiment. Those who had received the compassion training showed markedly higher pro-social behaviors, meaning those behaviors that demonstrate empathy, cooperation, and concern for others. This is hugely important in the fields of social psychology and brain plasticity, as it shows that meditation practice can be a simple solution to many of our more frustrating social ills like cutthroat competition, manipulation, and all that goes along with it.
Especially in this joyous and charitable time of the year, it is the perfect time to flex your compassion muscles and take up a loving-kindness practice. If you aren’t sure where to start, or want to learn more, please join us for our Meditation and Gong Voyage on December 27th. You’ll explore two different types of meditation with our guidance, before immersing yourself in the healing sounds of the gong. It’s sure to be a memorable event, and the perfect way to kick off the new year!