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There's a better Metta - and it's grounded in kindness

What if the next industry trend was something…different? asks the group strategy director at Zenith

By Zara Bryson

We all need some headspace. Last week I went to the London Buddhist Centre with my cousin, Greg. We caught up for coffee the weekend before and talked about work, motivation and mindset and he thought I’d enjoy their meditation challenge.

Along we both went into a packed room of beginner meditators to sit on stacked meditation cushions and to find some space away from the hustle and bustle of life.

I slowed my breath and prepared my mind to close off to emails, work, books I’m reading, my many tabs open, house-hunting, worrying about whether my stomach was going to rumble…

Candle-light. Relaxation. Calm.

Our teacher set up the focus of the session, we would be practicing the ‘Metta… Bhavana… meditation’. He let the words land.

My ears pricked up.

“Metta”... “Meta”... I started to daydream.

Space to Make Connections

Often it’s when our minds unwind that we come up with new ideas or better connections. The shower is my favourite thinking space (I am not the only one) but meditation was the catalyst of my daydream exploration that evening.

My trail of thought went as follows:

  • Meta... The rebrand of Facebook to Meta… how Zuckerberg cringingly called his employees ‘Metamates’ in a recent memo

  • The barrage of “metaverse” articles popping up and how it is billed as “the future of social connection”, yet there’s such a lack of understanding as to what it actually is

  • This thought-provoking article from Amy Kean about the opportunities and very real threats it presents, questioning whether we are mentally ready for the metaverse

The irony is not lost on me that as I sat in a beautiful candlelit room, with a giant golden Buddha in front of me - in search of headspace I might add - that I was thinking about advertising jargon and trends and wondering how it might make for an interesting piece of writing. Which leads nicely to my next connection…

  • The concept of ‘Metacognition’, explored by the Uncertainty Experts - in short, the power of being aware of your unhelpful thought patterns…

…which prompted a jolt of recognition of the daydream and was a mental segue for me to zone back into the instructor…

There’s a better Metta

Many of you will be familiar with this, but for those of you (like myself) who are not, ‘Metta’ (Maitrī in Sanskrit; Pali), the teacher explained, means loving kindness and goodwill and is a core part of Buddhist practice. ‘Bhavana’ is about development or cultivation. Together they make the practice of cultivating kindness.

Working through the following prompts, the ‘Metta Bhavana’ meditation starts with cultivating kind feelings to yourself, then moves through someone you are close to, someone you feel neutral towards, someone you find difficult or disagree with and then to the wider world.

You replace the ‘I’ with the people you are thinking of in each category as you move through the mediation.

• ‘May {I} be happy

• May {I} be well

• May {I} be free from suffering and

• May {I} make progress

I’ve been thinking and writing about kindness a lot over the past few years and how we must stop thinking of it as something that is passive and instead desperately need more action in kindness to counter the challenges of burnout, overwhelm, climate change and more.

And just like that, as Carrie Bradshaw would say, here it crops up again to remind me of its importance.

Getting our priorities right

Our industry at its best is tapped into emotions, human behavior trends and providing entertainment but can often get caught up with jumping on the ‘next shiny thing’ along the way.

Looking at Google Trends, I was fascinated to see the pattern of our interest in searching for kindness versus the meteoric rise in searches for ‘metaverse’.

Adding in the term ‘meta’ more generally amplifies how Zuckerberg's Meta announcement last October has driven this shift.

Despite the rate of increased interest in learning about the ‘metaverse’ overtaking kindness, the overall volumes in search speak to the more pressing human need for kindness, the area we should be focusing more on.

I have translated my learnings from the fascinating few hours of meditation into some conscious actions completely unrelated to the metaverse as an antidote to the reams of content on this right now. You don’t need to be religious or even remotely interested in meditating for these to apply to you and your teams.

Metta to yourself:

In coaching, kindness to oneself is a theme that I’ve seen come up time and time again.

The cocktail of ambition, expectation and drive mixed with the various experiences and implications of the pandemic years and lockdowns has taken its toll, leaving people feeling less connected and more uncertain about what they are doing, why they are doing it or if they are doing ‘enough’.

  • Try to speak to yourself as you would as a friend. Try reassuring words or compliments, I have personally found the simple mantra ‘I am doing enough’ effective to counter some negative thought patterns. The excellent Amazing If duo Helen and Sarah have suggested taking this concept a step further including your name. “Zara, you are doing enough”. It has a nice ring to it.

  • Which phrase would help you to be kinder to yourself?

Metta to your close colleagues/friends:

It can sometimes feel easier to be kind to those around you than to yourself. Even so, there are always ways we can be more kind to those close to us. There are many kindness suggestions I could give here, but below is one I am particularly fond of:

  • Listening and not jumping in with a solution. This is a core pillar of coaching and an area I have to focus on as someone who loves problem-solving. It can be tricky not to jump into solution mode when colleagues or friends are struggling and you wish to support them. I loved this post I saw recently about the power of clarifying “Do you want to vent or some advice?”

  • How will you practice active listening with the next person who comes to you to talk?

Metta to people you may feel neutral towards:

Following the ‘Metta Bhavana’ categories, ‘neutral’ is next. This for me is about those not in your immediate sphere of concern and was a reminder of the importance of allyship to drive positive change.

  • Engaging in allyship - If you are not directly impacted by discrimination, it might not be something on the top of your priority list, you might not feel ‘indifferent’ but perhaps instead like it’s not your problem to solve. One kind step forward for positive change would be to show interest in and join business resource groups or to advocate for change that will positively impact others. What element of inclusion could you actively champion?

Metta to colleagues/people online you dislike or disagree with:

We are biased to support, hire, follow and empathize with people who are ‘like us’. I’m sure that everyone has seen the chart showcasing how we are politically more polarized than ever before and The Social Dilemma documentary exposed how algorithms have entrenched our dislike for what is different from us. But what if we sought to bridge understanding instead? Check out this TED Talk about a company who used data signals to identify people at risk of extremism and repurposed ad tech to reach out to them with support (incredible, right?).

  • Connecting with people who aren’t like us - I’m absolutely not saying you should strike up a conversation with an extremist or neo-Nazi (or do their dry-cleaning), but there is something to be said of fostering a sense of deeper understanding to people who you disagree with online or in person. This extends to creating digital experiences (perhaps even in the metaverse) that bridge instead of entrenching divides -

  • How are you driving your understanding of people who you dislike or are different from you?

Metta to the wider world:

The final area is a big one. Extending that dedication to kindness beyond your immediate world and to impact the wider world. There are lots of brilliant initiatives already in place in our industry to drive this forward.

  • Pushing forward initiatives that are good for the World - Ad Net Zero and AdGreen in the world of Sustainability, various courses in anti-racism and driving gender equality, WACL’s Flexible First… There are countless opportunities to use our power to make the World a better place.

  • What one action of kindness to the World could you take?

Mo Gawdat, author of Scary Smart: The Future of Artificial Intelligence and How You Can Save Our World, has made some pretty serious predictions about the advancement of AI but he also offers a hopeful reminder that the direction that technology takes is still in our hands. We can teach ourselves and the tech we create to foster better outcomes.

What if now, every time you heard Meta or the metaverse, it was a cue to remind you of ‘Metta’ and to cultivate kindness to yourself, your colleagues and to the wider world?

Focusing on actions around kindness can seem small, but if we shift at least some of the energy and hyperbole that we have for the metaverse to this better Metta, we could create a powerful and lasting impact.

Zara Bryson is the group strategy director at Zenith


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