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Meditation Technique: Loving Kindness

Meditation Technique: Loving Kindness

Last week we discussed the Noting Meditation, and this week we’re going to review one more simple form of meditation. Loving Kindness is a practice that originated in the Buddhist tradition, and it is meant to be a practice for cultivating unconditional love. This can sound like a cheesy goal, but a practice like this is challenging while cultivating compassion and empathy for other people.

Meditation is about honing concentration, but meditation can also fuel compassion and connection when you make these emotions the focus of your concentration. Because we are programmed for near-constant self-criticism, the self-love and connection to people that grow from practicing this type of meditation on a regular basis can actually make you happier.

There are four objects of the Loving Kindness meditation: you, someone you love, someone you don’t have strong feelings for either way, and someone you actively dislike. Through the sequence of this meditation, we move from the people we are closest to out to the people we dislike; we strengthen our ability to connect even to those we don’t care for.

A brief note: practicing unconditional love does not mean becoming a doormat in real life or constantly giving in to the demands of others. Part of self-love is the ability to set healthy boundaries, and the concept of Loving Kindness supports that self-love along with compassion for other people.

 To set up for this meditation, ensure you will have a few uninterrupted minutes of quiet time. Sit or stand comfortably; try not to lie down unless you’re ready to fall asleep. Stack your ribcage over top of your hips and soften your shoulders; take a few deep breaths to allow your body to settle into this position. If you’re uncomfortable, make sure you adjust! Meditation is not about ignoring the physical signals sent by your body. If you’re comfortable closing your eyes you can do so; you can also practice with your eyes open and unfocused.

You can do this meditation at any speed that you like, but try to take enough time to “see” each image in some detail. With each phrase, you can repeat it once or three times.  

First, focus your mind’s eye on yourself. See an image of yourself surrounded by warm, golden light. Allow yourself to be filled with that light and let yourself feel relaxed and happy. Repeat all or some of the following phrases to yourself, or rephrase them in a way that makes you feel comfortable:

 May I be safe.

May I be at ease and happy.

May I be filled with loving kindness.

Next, imagine someone that you love. See as detailed an image of them as you can, and then imagine that they are filled and surrounded by golden light. Repeat these phrases (or something similar) to your image of that person:

May you be safe.

May you be at ease and happy.

May you be filled with loving kindness.

Third, imagine someone that you don’t feel much about. They might be an acquaintance or someone that you see in your daily life that you don’t interact with closely. Again, see as detailed a picture in your mind as you can, see them surrounded and filled with golden light, and repeat the following phrases to your image of that person:

May you be safe.

May you be at ease and happy.

May you be filled with loving kindness. 

Next, imagine someone that you dislike. See them clearly in your mind’s eye, surrounded by and filled with golden light. Repeat these phrases to your image of that person:

May you be safe.

May you be at ease and happy.

May you be filled with loving kindness. 

With each step, do your best to imagine that person is safe, warm, and content. Extend to them some of the compassion that it would feel wonderful to receive yourself.  

Once the four steps are completed, spend a minute or two just breathing in that golden light. Before you get back to the rest of your day, make sure you take some time to get back into your physical body – wiggle your toes and fingers, stretch your neck and shoulders, and even stamp your feet – so that you don’t feel unfocused or distracted.

There is more than enough hatred in the world, and not nearly enough compassion and empathy. Practicing this meditation is one way to cultivate a personal sense of connection to yourself and other people, which is the first step in making the world a better place.

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