- With Valentine's Day right around the corner, we introduce the practice of loving-kindness
- When we act from love and kindness, there is presence, warmth, inclusiveness, and deep listening
- Join our newsletter to get free access to Lauren's guided loving-kindness meditation file!
In high school I got caught sneaking out of my mom’s house. It wasn’t my finest moment and my mother was reasonably furious. My father was tasked with picking me up from school the next day. He stood outside of his car and as he saw me approaching he held his arms wide open and embraced me. He leaned his head down near mine and whispered, “I love you.” When I close my eyes I can still hear his voice, smell his cologne, and feel the warmth of his touch.
My betrayal wasn’t without consequence. I spent the next month grounded but, his gesture of kindness was a reminder that I was loved. It was a wholehearted act of compassion in a moment when anger and fear would have been understandable reactions.
Compassion occurs when we recognize someone’s suffering and act on the desire to alleviate it. I like to interchange the word compassion with love but compassion can also appear as empathy, kindness, and shared humanity. When we act from love there is presence, warmth, inclusiveness, and deep listening. But my compassion, probably like yours, is imperfect. My compassion suffers when I get trapped in what my teacher Tara Brach famously refers to as “the separate self.” When my agenda trumps the needs of others, kindness goes out the window. When I’m in a hurry I become short narrow focused and insensitive.
Think about the last time you spoke or acted from a place of urgency or hurry. How did you treat the other person? Were you so focused on your own needs that your awareness of the other person’s needs disappeared? In these moments we become so self-absorbed that the other person becomes just that – other. When we “other” other people we create disconnection and a false sense of separateness. Compassion is a reminder that in the end every human being has the same fundamental desires to be seen, heard, loved, and accepted. No exceptions.
Your brain is hardwired to reward you for performing acts of kindness. Each time you do something compassionate for another person you receive a little shot of the feelgood hormone dopamine. The intelligence governing the universe was wise enough to arrange your biology in such a way that you are fundamentally motivated to continue acting on your empathy and generosity throughout your life. Each time you do something kind, you experience the biological equivalent of eating sugar! You are wired for kindness, and wired to crave more of it.
Physiologically compassion reduces your blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, decreases anxiety and stress, and strengthens your immune response. And, compassion is actually a skill you can strengthen over time. The next time you do something kind, pause and notice how your body feels. Is there a lightness in your heart? Do you feel uplifted or sense the subtle presence of a smile across your face? By taking time to notice the effects of compassion, you train yourself to act compassionately increasingly throughout your life.
To help strengthen this skill within yourself follow my guided Loving-Kindness meditation (sign up for our newsletter and get free access!) which is a mindfulness practice that can help you build greater connection, empathy, and compassion. Do this meditation every day for 30 days and watch what unfolds in your life and in our world!