Welcome to episode 25. As it was Valentine’s Day a few days ago and my Birthday yesterday, and I was lucky enough to have the people I love most in the whole world close to me, love has been on my mind more than usual over the past week. So today I want to dedicate this podcast to love, but not the romantic kind.
Today, I want to talk to you about love as an emotion in the context that Barbara Fredrickson talks about love. I will come back to Barbara Fredrickson and her work on emotions - positive emotions in particular - in a future episode, but for today, I want to focus on her work on one particular emotion: Love. In her book, Love 2.0, Barbara talks about love being the “supreme” emotion, and how really honing in on this emotion gives us immense wellbeing benefits. She talks about love in the context of “micro-moments of connection” with other human beings: The smile as you cross a stranger in a doorway, making eye contact with the cashier at a supermarket, taking a few moments to have a meaningful conversation with a colleague in the staffroom. It’s well worth reading the book - the first part is the science behind it all, and the rest of the book is packed full of activities to help you bring more love into your life.
One such activity is the one she says her research has found to be the most powerful way to increase the amount of love and its resulting positive impact into our lives. The activity is a Loving Kindness Meditation. In 2017, when I attended the IPPA World Congress in Montréal, I had the opportunity to sit in a presentation by Barbara Fredrickson and Sharon Salzberg: The science and practice of loving kindness meditation. Sharon Salzberg explained that the original term for the ancient practice of loving kindness meditation is “metta”, which directly translates as friendship, but she feels that doesn’t quite hit the spot and describes it more as a form of connection and a powerful tool to help us achieve a sense of peace.
I’m now going to take you through a loving kindness meditation from mine and Elizabeth Wright’s book, Character Toolkit for Teachers.
In the book, you will find the suggested wording and a process for leading such a meditation for children, but for now, if you are able to do so, please join me in this peaceful moment.
Close your eyes and take a couple of deep, slow breaths. Think about a person you care deeply about. Imagine this special person; what they look like, the clothes they wear, their smile, what they look like when they’re happy. Think about how lovely it feels to hug this person and to see them being happy. Imagine this special person doing something they love to do. Do they like to listen to music, potter around in the garden, or eat out with friends? Imagine them doing something they love doing and that, as they are doing this, you walk up to them and give them a huge hug, filled with love. Imagine all of that love gathering in your heart. Now release that love and send it out towards this special person.
As you do so, say the following words silently in your mind and send them out towards this person you love: ‘May you be happy, healthy and strong’. Take a few more moments to remain still and quiet, with your eyes closed, as you take three slow, deep breaths in and out. Now gently open your eyes.
‘May you be happy, healthy and strong’ is mine and Elizabeth’s suggested wording, but you can adapt this for yourself or even encourage children to come up with their own. Barbara Fredrickson and Sharon Salzberg’s wording was “May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you live with ease”.
You can extend this meditation by taking the love you felt when thinking about another person and sending it out to yourself. In our book, Elizabeth and I use the following recommended wording for children:
“Imagine [that love] is going on a journey, from your heart to your head…now say ‘may I be happy, healthy and strong’.”
You can further extend this meditation to people you know but don’t have any strong feeling towards, for example someone you regularly meet at the bus stop, or a checkout assistant you regularly see at your local supermarket. You can direct this to your whole family, school or community, the whole world, or, for a real challenge, someone you don’t like. According to Sharon Salzberg, seeing this type of meditation as a form of connection for your own inner peace makes no assumption about whether you wish to spend time with that person or have them in your life.
When doing this activity with your pupils, it is useful to check in with them and discuss how this meditation made them feel, and to build up to the extensions bit by bit. I started you off with sending out love to someone you care about because that’s the one we find easiest. Often people struggle initially with sending the love to themselves, and you or your pupils may be no exception. That’s ok - just build up to that.
I hope you have found this episode useful and that our shared meditation has given you a sense of calm and inner peace. As always, I look forward to catching up with you next week and, until we speak again, For Flourishing’s Sake, have a great week!