Calming a crisis through caring
On the radio or television these days we usually hear a speaker blaming someone for Covid-19, or for the ways it has been mishandled in the U.S.A. Then the next commentator shames those who disrespect elected individuals who are doing what little they can to limit the problems that come with a pandemic. Angry blaming and shaming continue endlessly in the media, and they only make the situation worse.
The other day I was feeling angry and worried when I heard an interview on NPR with Dan Harris, author of, “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works.” In the interview Harris explained how love and kindness meditation can actually help reduce stress and increase personal effectiveness.
Harris admitted that he had been skeptical about the idea that such a schmaltzy sounding formula could help a reasonable adult. Before he discovered meditation, Harris was a news reporter who had a panic attack while on the show “Good Morning America.” Then he knew he needed to change.
I too must confess that the whole idea seemed excessively sentimental to me, but I was driving the car and had no other listening options. I began to wonder how one would meditate on love and kindness. It seemed too contrived, too formulaic, and too manipulative to be sincere. At least Harris was not claiming that his meditations would make us more than 10% happier, so I kept on listening.
Harris did not try to stage a meditation then and there on the radio, but he described how it worked.
When he is angry, stressed, or worried, it is time to think about the people who are part of his problem. It can be just one person or it can be several people who need to be thought about in mindful meditation.
Although he did not believe it was possible when he began, he learned to focus first on the person with whom he was most angry. He did not go to a special place or practice a complicated meditation ritual. He would just think about that person and say to himself, “May he or she be happy. May he or she be healthy. May he or she find peace.”
After the problem person was given these kind thoughts, he would think about other people in his life. These might be family members, friends, and coworkers. Again, in each case, he would say to himself, “May he or she be happy. May he or she be healthy. May he or she find peace.”
Even with his skepticism, he was able to relieve some of his own anger and anxiety with this type meditation. Being peacefully connected to other people is the key to human safety and security.