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Many of our holiday celebrations, both religious and secular, center on the theme of illumination. Christmas heralds the birth of Jesus who Christians venerate as the “Light of the world.” Without the aid of a GPS, the three kings followed the light of the star of the East in order to bear gifts and homage to the “newborn King.”

In everyday life, how good it feels to light candles at the dinner table, huddle together in front of a cozy fireplace, or sit around a campfire savoring each other’s company as a way to shine through the darkness of the shortest days of the year.

In the Jewish tradition, the menorah candles are lit on each of the eight days of Chanukah. In the Maccabean revolt of the second century BCE, a small band of Jews succeeded in rising up against their oppressors. During the reclaiming and rededication of the Temple, although there was only enough oil to burn for one day, miraculously it burned for 8 consecutive days. The Chanukah celebration is thereby known as the Festival of Lights. The Winter Solstice celebration, from ancient to modern times, marks the return of the sun. The recognition that each day forward will provide an increase in daylight hours elicits cause for celebration. The yule log, a symbol of hope and rebirth, is traditionally lit on the eve of the solstice in order to conquer the darkness and bring good luck. In everyday life, how good it feels to light candles at the dinner table, huddle together in front of a cozy fireplace, or sit around a campfire savoring each other’s company as a way to shine through the darkness of the shortest days of the year.

Universally, we feel drawn to symbols of illumination. As we internalize these images, we hope that they can lessen our suffering and increase lightness in our hearts. But in our everyday lives, as unremitting stress increases with myriad worries and mounting concerns, we find ourselves feeling, “My mood is dark. My heart feels so heavy.”

To proactively counter this internal darkness, there is a self-administered, useful tool that we can add to our self-care repertoire. This ancient and indispensable practice for inducing lightheartedness and connection is known as loving kindness meditation. Simply put, it involves focusing on the practice of wishing for happiness, contentment and ease for yourself and others. In this meditation practice we focus on another, as we silently repeat internally: May you be happy… May you be peaceful…May you be well. Alternately, we send the same blessing to ourselves: May I be happy…May I be peaceful…May I be well. We continue to send loving kindness to whomever we choose, while continuing to send well wishes to ourselves in the same manner.

In a 2009 study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, researchers found that those who practiced loving kindness meditation for 8 weeks, showed a significant reduction in their stress response.

In another comprehensive study, Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher, and her team studied the impact of loving kindness meditation and how this practice could build, not just positive emotions, but also cognitive, emotional, and physical resources. She writes: “The practice of loving kindness meditation led to shifts in people’s daily experiences that included: decreases in symptoms of depression, increases in mindful attention, self-acceptance, positive relationships with others, and good physical health.” Not surprisingly, loving kindness meditation has been shown to also increase social connectedness.

A study by researchers at Stanford University found that after practicing loving kindness meditation for seven minutes, test subjects reported greater social connection to others. All of these findings are both illuminating and powerful. As we learn to open and lighten our hearts through loving kindness meditation, we seed the growth of love and support between others and inside of ourselves. The practice of loving kindness sheds light on our innate ability to transform and heal our connections within and without.

What practice(s) help you to deepen your connection to yourself and others?

Contributed by

Mimi O' Connor
Group Support Specialist

Hearts linked, together we heal…

Better Health Begins With You...

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