An Ancient Prescription for COVID-19 Fear and Loneliness
Research shows how an ancient practice counters fear and builds relationships.
Posted Apr 30, 2020
Here you are, stuck at home or isolated in one fashion or another because of COVID-19. Watching the news doesn't help you feel any better because it's filled with horror stories of what can go wrong! How can we find any relief?
What if I told you there was an ancient, 2,500-year-old practice that scientists have found is incompatible with feelings of fear, loneliness and isolation? I teach this prescription in all my mindfulness workshops for health care professionals. I've also taught it to clients struggling with depression, anxiety and feelings of loneliness and isolation. And, might I add: I've found this to be so useful that I personally use this prescription daily in my own life.
What is the prescription, you ask? It's the loving-kindness meditation, or affirmation, and it has an ancient and humble beginning started some 2,500 years ago.
As the story goes, the Buddha originally gave this loving-kindness meditation practice to his monks who were frightened and fearful when meditating in the forest. He told them that the words in this meditation would help them feel safer.
Little did the Buddha know, however, that researchers in the attachment field would one day discover that certain words acted as "security primings" that did indeed prime persons for feelings of safety, trust and openness!
Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson's research on the broaden-and-build theory shows that the loving-kindness meditation produces positive emotions and an increase in social support and personal resources. The idea is that the loving-kindness affirmation broadens out one's attention—whereas fear tends to narrowly focus us on the threat and worries about the threat.
Once we're able to broaden out attention, we can start to notice the people and things around us, and how we can find emotional support. Many of us are finding that through the internet, with online webinars, such as the free 1-hour webinar I'm providing to help people cope with the stresses surrounding COVID-19.
I like to think of this even as a simple affirmation. Further, you don't need to sit for long periods of silence to do this. It's a practice that can use helpful throughout the day, and it's portable, so you can use it anytime and anywhere the spirit moves. you.
Keep in mind that loving kindness can help us to transcend both our smallest and our most dangerous fears. Imagine loving-kindness as a way to give ourselves a great big wonderful hug, and in so doing, change our mood and state of mind for the better so that we project positive feelings to everyone around us.
Let me describe the ancient prescription with you right here. It's included in many of my books, and I'd like to share a very down-to-earth and simple version of this affirmation that is in my new book, Simply Mindful.
Introduction: Loving-kindness is not a selfish or me-first kind of love. It is not narcissism. If you have ever loved someone deeply (even a pet), then you know the kind of deep abiding wish for another’s safety and well-being that I’m talking about. And so, you will begin by extending this love to yourself.
Begin by sitting in silence, eyes closed, with a focus on your breathing.
When you feel centered, start by forgiving yourself for the hurt you may have caused others. If you have difficulty forgiving yourself as you are today, try picturing yourself as a young child or infant and give forgiveness to that innocent image of yourself.
Now repeat these words to yourself either out loud or inwardly:
May I be well.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I be at peace.
May I be free from pain, hunger, and suffering.
You can also use the shorthand version:
May I be well, happy, healthy, and peaceful.
Keep repeating these words to yourself as many times as feels necessary. Let the feeling of love spread into all the cells of your body, even radiating into and from your heart. Continue until the image you hold of yourself is immersed in light and aglow with radiant love. (Some people report feeling warmth, tingling, or other sensations.) If you cannot feel this love, please do not blame yourself. Be patient with yourself and the exercise. It sometimes takes time. Don’t treat the exercise as some kind of goal to achieve. Treat it as a process, as an approach to life.
Now you can begin to expand your love outward. Start with your family and friends. Picture that person in your mind’s eye as radiant and happy and healthy. As you picture that person, repeat the following words either mentally or aloud:
May (use their name) be well.
May (name) be happy and healthy.
May (name) be at peace.
May (name) be free from pain, hunger, and suffering.
(Again, you can use the short-hand version: "May (name) be well, happy, healthy and peaceful."
After sending loving-kindness to family and friends, you can continue by sending loving-kindness to the following groups:
mentors, teachers and guides neutral persons
all beings without limitation
When you have finished, place your hands at your heart center and dedicate your blessings for all. Don’t be surprised if you feel some strong emotions. Opening to love means opening your tender heart to the world’s suffering.
Remember to always send love to yourself first, then to send it outward to others. This is an important practice. It is one that has its greatest benefits if practiced daily.
It is a powerful antidote to different kinds of suffering that prevent us from experiencing the joy inherent in each moment-by-moment experience of life!