By Diana Sunshine
I know some of you might wonder why this “Active You” post is about meditation. I mean, sitting and trying to empty your mind doesn’t sound all that active, right? But trust me—meditation is an active, daily practice that takes dedication and provides some pretty surprising benefits.
For me, meditation has been a struggle for decades. I tried to empty my mind and focus on my breath. During these failed attempts, time stood still. It seemed impossible to sit for even a couple of minutes. But three years ago, I discovered Metta meditation (also known as Loving Kindness Meditation) and it changed everything. Metta is a powerful meditation practice that helps us transcend the self and connect with greater understanding and compassion to the people and world around us. Instead of trying to empty my mind, I focus on positive mantras or well-wishes. And you know what? It worked! Now, I can sit for more than 30 minutes.
The benefits of a consistent meditation practice are endless. It reduces stress and anxiety while improving sleep and overall happiness. Plus, it fosters a deep sense of calm. Dan Harris, the author of 10% Happier, claims that meditation’s biggest benefit is “the ability to respond instead of react to impulses and urges.” But what’s surprising is that meditation improves your immune system, making you healthier; it strengthens your brain function, reducing your risk of dementia; and it even resolves chronic pain.
After three years of practice, I’ve gained a few insights:
- You are what you think: Your thoughts are powerful. Meditation is like exercise for the brain; it helps build mental fitness and achieve a state of well-being. Make sure your self-talk is positive and constructive. Harris even wanted to title his book “The Voice In My Head Is A Total A*****e.” Ask yourself, would you talk to a friend the way you talk to yourself?
- Take care of yourself first; the rest will follow: It might feel selfish to prioritize yourself, but it’s important to get your own “house in order” before dealing with other priorities and potential stressors. Ultimately, it makes managing them easier.
- It’s not one and done—it’s a daily practice: Like diet and exercise, meditation is a lifestyle change. Once you start feeling the benefits, it can be easy to lighten up on the effort. Unfortunately, as soon as you stop practicing, the benefits wane.
So, how do you do Metta meditation?
First, pick your mantras. My personal favorites are “May I be happy,” “May I be well,” “May I be free from suffering,” and “May I be at peace.” But you can personalize them to fit your needs, like “May I be healthy,” “May I be safe,” “May I be free,” or “May I live with ease.” Pick ones that resonate with you.
Next, find a comfortable place to sit, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and quiet your mind. Then, send your mantras to everyone in this order: yourself, someone you love, a neutral person, someone you dislike, and then to all beings in the world. Begin with five-minute meditation sessions and build over time.
I’ve discovered a few hacks:
- Unpack each mantra to uncover its gist and how it manifests for you. I’ve deepened each mantra to include three parts: “may I be happy,” “may I feel happy,” and “I am happy.” After much practice, when I now say, “I am happy,” I actually feel happier. It changes my entire demeanor.
- Meditate while cooking, exercising, or doing household chores. While not exactly what the Buddha ordered, it’s a great way to optimize time and make repetitive, mindless acts more fulfilling.
- Participate in free, online guided meditations. My daughter turned me onto Gil Fronsdal, who hosts a live 7 am Pacific practice that’s recorded for on-demand access.
For me, discovering Metta meditation was life-changing. I wish the same for you. Give it a try and see for yourself. For more information about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness, here’s Sharon Salzburg’s TED Talk “Transform Your Mind, Change the World.”
Diana Sunshine, founder of Big Retired Life, is a mission-driven, community builder with 20+ years experience in EdTech, Fundraising, and Non-Profit management.
Throughout the “Active You” section of this blog, we will introduce you to ideas on staying active and learning new things.