When I hear many people singing or playing musical instruments together in beautiful harmony, such an expansive feeling wells up in me that I can hardly stand it, though its not unpleasant. Practicing mindfulness and cultivating compassion seems to have only made this experience more frequent and exquisite. Recently, I discovered there’s a name for this powerful emotion – kama muta, which in Sanskrit means “moved by love”.
Kama muta is a feeling of oneness that motivates us to commit to prosocial behavior and communal sharing relationships that anthropologists credit for our survival as a species. This emotion involves a sense of unity, equality, belonging, and trust, inspiring devotion and moral responsibility among people, other beings, or the natural world. Kama muta has been known to arise spontaneously when experiencing awe in nature, witnessing or engaging in acts of generosity, in sudden connection or reunion, or when practicing lovingkindness and self-compassion. Like all emotions, kama muta is also often accompanied by physical sensations, such as a feeling of warmth or spaciousness in the heart region, an eruption of goosebumps, or a sense of being “choked up” or having a “lump in the throat”.
Many different types of experiences can elicit kama muta depending upon culture, context and other factors, but its universality among humans may indicate we’re hard-wired to feel it. Not just a pleasurable emotion, kama muta serves the greater good through nurturing a sense of solidarity, helping us to arrive at consensus when a decision must be made, or motivating us to take collective responsibility to care for one another or our environment. A series of short video clips from the Kama Muta Lab, a research center within the Department of Psychology at Oslo University, might help you experience the feeling for yourself.
Love comes quietly,
about me, on me,
in the old ways.
What did I know
able to go
alone all the way.
– Robert Creely, Love Comes Quietly
Fiske, A.P. (2019). Kama Muta: Discovering the Connecting Emotion (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780367220952
Fiske, A. P., Seibt, B., & Schubert, T. (2019). The Sudden Devotion Emotion: Kama Muta and the Cultural Practices Whose Function Is to Evoke It. Emotion Review, 11(1), 74–86. https://doi.org/10.1177/1754073917723167
Kama Muta Lab https://kamamutalab.org/