With Valentine’s Day approaching, it’s a great time to teach empathy, perspective taking, and loving-kindness. In the world of mindfulness (paying attention, on purpose, without judgment, Jon Kabat-Zinn), this is called heartfulness, a way of paying attention through the lens of the heart. Heartfulness encourages us to be aware of what is happening inside of ourselves as well as outside (towards others) in a warm and loving way. Sending love to ourselves and those around us, whether we know them or not. This can be taught and practiced through a loving-kindness meditation. Christine Carter, a sociologist and senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Centre, reports on the benefits of this type of meditation:
“The research shows compellingly that it (loving-kindness meditation) actually puts people on
trajectories of growth, leaving them better able to ward off depression and become ever more
satisfied with life. Doing a simple loving-kindness meditation can make us feel less isolated and
more connected to those around us: one study showed that a SINGLE SEVEN MINUTE loving-
kindness meditation made people feel more connected to and positive about both loved ones and total strangers, and more accepting of themselves.”
Here is a video of Dr. Carter that provides more information and an example.
Occupational Therapist, yoga/mindfulness teacher (and good friend of mine), Betsy Shandalov, turned me on to sending love to my own children on a nightly basis by standing in their doorway after saying goodnight, pausing, and whispering or silently saying, “may you by happy, may you be healthy, and may you be helpful.”
Another way to bring awareness to the act of loving-kindess is through children’s books. Every year I bring out the children’s book When There Are No Words by Sandra Magsamen, which
shows how people use actions and gestures to promote caring and connection with others. As a
speech therapist who specializes in social communication, I count it among my favorites. Here is a review from my 10-year- old son Gabriel: “It’s about how you can show love through actions. I do this when I hug my mom. The book is good because it makes people understand how to show your emotions and caring through actions, not just words.”
Here are two more books that we read and my son reviewed. These stories offer good jumping-off points for talking about heartfulness as well as empathy and perspective taking, the act of putting oneself into another person’s shoes.
A Time to Be Kind, The Moodsters, created by Denise Daniels and written by Ellie O’Ryan: “It is about being kind to others and that makes you feel better. This happened to me when I gave something to my little buddy up the street. I gave him a Spiderman coloring book and it made him happy. It made me feel good too.” I think the book would be good for children ages third grade and younger. It teaches the golden rule of “Do unto others what you want others to do unto you.”
We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio: “This book is about not judging someone by their cover, meaning you should give the book or a person a chance and not only see what’s on the outside. You can take a big look at the world and help the people that might look or act different by not judging them. This happened to me when I judged a boy at school when he wasn’t in my class and then I got to know him and liked him. He is a good friend now. I like this book because it makes people want to help out other different people.” (Reviews by Gabriel Sautter Savala)