I’ve written before about how much I love this great meditation app called Buddhify. It’s an app for your phone that has a huge array of different guided meditations to suit whatever mood or activity you might be engaging in.
Meditation has had a huge effect on my life in many small ways. ABC news anchor Dan Harris said it best in his amazing book on mindfulness, it sort of makes you “10% happier.” And that’s wonderful. I’m only a few months in and can’t say I’m 10% happier, maybe 5, but I’m on my way!
My regular form of daily meditation is a standard one. I sit, I pay attention to my breath, and when my mind decides to wander off (frequently), I gently bring my attention back to my breath. I do that over and over until the timer on my watch goes off. It’s mind training, and it has enormous potential to improve lives.
But there is another form of meditation not spoken about quite as often, sometimes called “loving-kindness” meditation. It’s also called “Metta” meditation. It has to do with building your compassion muscle for others around you and those not around you — all of humanity is fair game.
You don’t hear about this kind of meditation often, but it can be very powerful. As Stanford researcher Emma Seppälä notes, studies suggest that Metta meditation curbs self-criticism, increases your likelihood of making connections with people, and even reduces migraines. And there are many ways to do it, different teachers and schools of thought have different ways of approaching it.
My favourite time to practice this kind of meditation is on my morning walk to work, using Buddhify. They have a few different options for Metta, but my favourite is a guided track called “Zap.”
The idea is relatively simple.
Slow down your walking pace a bit.
And as you walk, you look at people around you and hone in on them like, as the track says, “A ridiculously benevolent superhero.”
As you do, you direct phrases (on the inside of course, not out loud) to them, headlined by “may you be well, may you be happy.”
Then you move on to the next person that enters your gaze, and do the same thing, always making sure not to work too hard, just let folks float into and out of your attention.
You end by doing the same to yourself, wishing yourself to be well and happy. As Lucy
Gunatillake, who voiced the meditation says, there’s nobody we’re harder on than ourselves. When you really connect with the phrases, the effect can be magical.
At first it feels weird and even forced, that’s OK. And when your mind wanders away from the phrases, just gently bring yourself back. It’s a fun little game that will make you feel like a million bucks. And you don’t have to worry about creeping people out, I wear sunglasses myself and glide along directing my attention around.
So why do I like this so much? Many reasons. First, it’s kind of fun to trudge through New York City pretending to be a ridiculously benevolent superhero. But also, I noticed that when I don’t do this, I don’t connect with anyone. I don’t look at anyone as they walk by or even the world around me. I’m so lost in my thoughts that I’m barely there.
I find myself seeing a different side of humanity in every person’s face and more often than not, really connecting the phrases “may you be well” to that person I’m seeing in front of me. Something happens, I don’t know what, but it definitely feels like progress.
Also, it gives you time away from the voice in your head, away from your own personal stories. That is valuable time spent, because so many of us have such a hard time escaping our thoughts.
I reached out to the creator of Buddhify, Rohan Gunatillake, and asked him to give me his thoughts on this guided meditation. Here’s what he told me:
The Zap technique is one that I made up myself and is a mash-up of a classic technique called loving-kindness together with walking around town. At the time I invented it, I was struggling to find time to do my formal sitting practice and so that is how I started doing on-the-go meditations alongside my everyday life. I’m also a bit of a gamer and so Zap is also inspired by classic arcade shooting games but with a bit of a mindfulness twist! I’ve always found playfulness a really important part of my own mindfulness practice and so wanted to share a bit of that via Zap (which is probably one of my top three favourite techniques in the app).
It’s hard to really quantify the kind of gains you get from meditation. It’s not the kind of thing you can easily put your finger on, but I definitely feel something different during and after these sessions, and I imagine the cumulative progress is even greater. I do feel like I am more naturally inclined to try and connect with people in real ways these days. I try not to allow myself to be distracted when speaking to people, and give myself a chance to pause and connect with the world every so often instead of being swept away into my own ego.
Also, there’s lots and lots of science out there to justify meditation as a significant life-improver.
TL;DR: It’s a fun meditation that will open you up, get you out of your head, and make you a more compassionate human being.
Here’s the meditation in full if you want to get a taste of it yourself:
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