When I first started meditating, it became clear that (quite often) my body may present, but my mind is absent from my daily life and interactions. Things like day-dreaming, planning for uncertain outcomes, worrying about the future, and poring over the past can occupy my mind at any given time. Meditation has helped me become aware of the times my mind goes off in all different directions. My racing thoughts are a silent (but powerful!) driver and stressor.
I have come to recognize that there are times when I might be engaging with a situation in the present, but because my mind is in another space or time, my responses may not be directly related to the present situation. Instead, I might be responding to past experiences and future fears. If I am not mentally present, I can go into autopilot and senselessly (and ineffectively) react to a situation or person.
There’s a quote that really resonates with me: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Victor Frankl
I think meditation allows that in-between space to grow and expand in a very significant way. As a result of this increased in-between space, we have a slower response time and we become more capable of choosing an appropriate and positive response to any given situation. Meditation also increases our ability to respond lovingly, patiently, and with empathy to others.
The Loving-Kindness Meditation (or Mettā) is one of my favorite forms of meditation and is particularly useful in developing empathy. This meditation asks us to focus on positive, loving emotions and then to send those positive thoughts and wishes to others. Angela Wilson writes “…[The Loving-Kindness Meditation] has the potential not only to improve our connection with ourselves, but to foster deeper connection and care for others as well.”
While it can be challenging to direct these positive, loving emotions toward people we might not feel affinity for, it’s an important practice and one I would highly encourage you to try out! This combination of an increased space for response and a more effective form of response encourages true understanding and positive encounters between ourselves and others.
You can find a free guided Loving-Kindness Meditation through UCLA: http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22. And here are two articles introducing the Loving-Kindness Meditation:
May all beings everywhere be happy.