Alternate Activity 1: Empathy Meditation
Activity time: 15 minutes
Description of Activity
Participants meditate to build empathy.
Invite youth to spend a few moments in meditation. Participants get comfortable and still. Suggest they close their eyes, if comfortable doing so. Guide youth with the following script:
Take several deep breaths-in through the nose and out through the mouth. Concentrate on your breathing. (Pause) Visualize the air you take in flowing throughout your entire body. What does it feel like? Does it make you warm? Do you feel filled with renewed strength?
Now visualize someone you love and who loves you. See their face, their body. See how they react when you are together. With your next breath, breathe in the love you receive from this person and breathe loving kindness back to them when you breathe out. (Pause) Do it again. (Pause) Once more. (Pause)
Breathe in loving kindness from your loved one and this time hold it within you. Let it flow throughout your body and help you feel warm and strong. Let the image of your loved one fade away. See instead someone with whom you have a difficult time empathizing. Maybe it is a rival from a sports team. It might be someone you fought with recently. It could be a person who is not empathetic themselves... .a bully or someone who has a hard time forgiving others. Once you visualize that person, look at them closely. Ask yourself what you have in common with this person. They have a body, just like you. They have feelings, like you. They experience joy, love, and pain, like you. They want to be loved. They want to be understood. Gather from your body the loving kindness you received from your loved one and breathe it out. Let your loving kindness surround this person as you try to understand their actions and their needs. (Pause) Then let the image go.
Bring your concentration back to your breathing. Take a few more deep breaths-in through the nose and out through the mouth-and open your eyes and come back to the group.
Give youth a few moments to settle and ask if anyone would like to reflect upon their meditation experience. Tell them that meditation and prayer are ways we can try to intentionally build empathy-toward not only the oppressed, but also oppressors. Acknowledge that it is hard to empathize with some people, especially those who hurt others. Empathizing with them is not the same as condoning their actions. Empathy implies that you are trying to understand someone's actions and feelings and understanding is an important step towards confronting someone who is committing an injustice. Say that participants will have an opportunity to practice loving kindness meditation again when you talk about forgiveness.