Empathy, Meditation and Loving Kindness

Empathy, meditation and loving kindness are intimately interconnected. What is empathy? The love of Mother Teresa, the love of Dalia Lama are the examples of positive empathy.  Empathy is that aspect of human quality, which makes people to be kind towards other. Empathy is the mental capacity to experience the emotions, thoughts, feelings, or state of another person. It is the capacity to truly understand another person’s point of view. There are two major elements to empathy. The first is the cognitive component: Understanding the others feelings and the ability to take their perspective and the second element to empathy is the affective component. This is an observer’s appropriate emotional response to another person’s emotional state. Empathy are influenced by the environment, hormones and the genes.

How Genes are Related to Empathy?

Empathy, Meditation and GenesHuman genes are made of bases, called nucleotides, which come in four types: A, T, C, and G. The G genes were treated as more compassionate, trustworthy and kind compared to the A genes . The gene comes in three combinations: AA, AG or GG. The GG version of the genes are associated with increased empathy, more positive emotion, greater maternal sensitivity to children and greater ability to cope with stress. Oxytocin, which is often referred to as the “love hormone” plays a role in social behaviors such as bonding, empathy, and anxiety. People with the “GG” gene displayed more caring and trusting nonverbal behaviors, like smiles, love, head nods, and eye contact, while listening to a loved one describe a time of suffering.

Types of Empathy

Dr. Amit Ray in the book Yoga and Vipassana: An Integrated Lifestyle explained “There are two types of empathy: the positive empathy and the negative empathy. When we are fully carried away by the unaware activities of the mirror neurons, we are under the trap of negative empathy. The negative empathy generates attachments. Out of these attachments suffering follows. Negative empathy is a kind of reaction to a situation, whereas positive empathy is internal response of peace love and tranquility…. In positive empathy, your deep tranquility, joy and peace activates the mirror neurons of the others, whereas in negative empathy your mirror neurons are activated by the disturbance of others.” Meditation especially loving kindness meditation increases the positive empathy.

How to eliminate anxiety, depression and worriers from life? Lord Buddha suggested four divine ways. They are Loving-kindness, Compassion, Empathetic Joy and Equanimity. They are also known as four Brahma Viharas, ‘the dwelling-places of Brahma’ or ‘divine ways’. These are also the way of practicing empathy. These are the process of removing the mental blocks. For cultivating loving-kindness the Karaniyametta Sutta explained: “As a mother, at the risk of her life, watches over her only child, let him cherish an unbounded mind for all living beings. Let him have love for the whole world, and develop an unbounded mind, above, below and all around, boundless heart of goodwill, free of hatred, standing, walking, sitting or lying down, so long as he be awake, let him cherish this thought. This is called divine abiding here.”

Loving-Kindness and Empathy Meditation

Loving-kindness refers to a mental state of unselfish and unconditional kindness to all beings  Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) produces four qualities of love: Friendliness (metta), Compassion (karuna), Empathetic Joy (mudita) and Equanimity (upekkha).  Karuna is that aspect of compassion by which we learn to have sympathy for and empathy with the sufferings of others. Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) aims to develop an affective state of unconditional kindness to all people. Compassion mediation (CM) involves techniques to cultivate compassion, or deep, genuine sympathy for those stricken by misfortune, together with an earnest wish to ease this suffering.

Similarly, compassion (karunaa) can be defined as an emotion that elicits “the heartfelt wish that sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering”. Compassion can be likened to the feeling a loving mother has toward alleviating the suffering of her child in distress but is aimed at all beings [Dalai Lama].

Steps of Loving Kindness Meditation:

During loving kindness meditation, the person typically proceeds through a number of stages that differ in the focus of the LKM exercise and also proceeds from easier to more challenging types of contemplation. The steps include :

  1. Sit comfortablly and look inward;
  2. Focus on yourself;
  3. Focus on a good friend;
  4. Focus on a neutral person
  5. Focus on a “difficult” person
  6. Focus on the self, good friend, neutral person, and difficult person (with attention being equally divided between them); and eventually
  7. Focus on the entire universe. Extended to an ever-widening circle of others, ultimately radiating them in all directions (north, south, east, west, above and below).

Empathy and Relationships

In your relationships, If you know about compassionate communication, you’re likely familiar with the ways that being mindful of each other, asking questions, and actively searching for ways to implement authentic connections can improve your life. If you culture empathy, you will be more attentive and caring to your fellow beings and loved one.

Empathy and Compassion

Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion. Empathy is the capacity to recognize feelings that are being experienced by another sentient or semi-sentient being. Understanding the mind of others is one aspect of empathy. Small hormonal differences can have far-reaching effects on empathy.

Vipassana meditation loving kindness and yoga meditation all are interlinked. If one is missing, one can not complete the other. Although genes and environments are related to empathy, positive empathy and loving kindness meditation is a good way to expand the consciousness.

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