Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
Home | About Dr. Phillips | Forest Garden Office | Reading Room | Advice Line Articles | "Office Staff" | Other Services | Psych-mobile | Choosing a Therapist | Affordable Therapy or Life Coaching | Dedication

Loving Kindness Meditation Update

LOVING KINDNESS MEDITATION

 

Do you want to obtain peace of mind? Do you want to overcome anger and cultivate an accepting and even forgiving attitude? Do you want to overcome feelings of jealousy and envy? Do you want to develop compassion and love for yourself and others? Do you want to soften your mind and heart, opening yourself up to deeper levels of kindness, compassion and appreciation of yourself and others? Do you want to cultivate an attitude of connection and union with the world?  Do you want to feel pure love, love without neediness, possessiveness, pretensions or expectations, empathetic love, uniting heart and mind through the force of love?  These are some of the benefits of ongoing and heart-felt practice of this meditation. I can attest to the positive power of this simple meditation technique.

 

Do you have at least five minutes a day for the Loving Kindness meditation? You can certainly spend more time on this practice every day, but frequent practice is essential to building this important and life-giving skill.  You may have heard about the demonstrated benefits of meditation but balked at the thought of sitting or kneeling in an uncomfortable position for long periods of time blanking out your mind.  I certainly felt that way myself, but am delighted to practice this focused meditation which can be used anywhere and anytime. Experiences such as sitting in a comfortable chair, lying down or walking in nature all present wonderful opportunities for this meditation.  Do avoid any practice which would bring on sleepiness and detract from the meditation. Most people keep their eyes closed during the meditation for greater focus. I do find it comfortable to do this meditation snuggled in bed at night before drifting into a peaceful sleep. However, I might keep my eyes open if I find myself nodding off before I finish the meditation.

 

 How do we know this works? Recent neurological studies have found that loving kindness and compassion meditation affect important brain areas involved in feelings of reward, modulating emotions and reducing stress responses.  Loving Kindness meditation is one of the techniques advocated by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson after years of study of positive psychology. As described in her new book, Positivity, Crown 2009, Fredrickson found that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio to negative emotions is the key to lasting positive change.  When you develop this practice you will find that you will be left with a warm glow in your heart area supported by your compassionate and loving thoughts. Another way I can judge the results of this practice is using an emWave meter which measures heart and mind coherence (http://www.heartmath.org). The Loving Kindness meditation will bring you into a state of heart-mind coherence which has well documented positive effects. Fredrickson describes positive benefits of this practice ranging from improved self acceptance to life satisfaction and improved health.

 

You may have heard of this meditation as Metta which originated within the Buddhist tradition. It was taught by the Buddha to develop selfless or altruistic love. It is however totally consistent with Christian traditions such as the Golden Rule. In fact selfless love, compassion and altruism are key components of any religious experience.  Universal love vs .fear are the primal emotions. Both spiritual and religious traditions teach that positive love energy is the life-giving force.

 

It is important to understand the concepts and basic structure of the meditation, and then you can and should personalize it for your own use. If you do an Internet search on this meditation you'll find many differences in the examples of the meditation although the key structure is the same. The meditation begins with development of this loving acceptance to yourself then extends beyond you in sequence ending with all-encompassing feelings of loving kindness toward the entire world.

Why begin with love for yourself? It is clear that, unless you are able to experience this loving compassion and acceptance for yourself, you will not be able to banish negativity to send positive feelings out into the world around you. You are after all a citizen of the world and your goal is to develop loving kindness toward all beings. After befriending yourself you will then systematically send loving kindness in sequence toward other people: beloved family and/or friend, a neutral person, a difficult person and eventually to all beings in the entire world. Using this order will have the effect of breaking down barriers between people. You can actually add as many people as you want in each category or add categories such as respected leaders or mentors.

 

We use the word "love" freely in discussions of this meditation. It is important to recognize that we are talking about selfless or altruistic love, not romantic love with its connotations of attachment and desires. The key concepts are kindness or compassion, empathetic and altruistic love and concern for the well-being of self and others.

 

You should send loving kindness wishes in each part of the sequence, although you can certainly vary the wishes in different practices. For example, starting with yourself, you would send wishes such as: "May I be filled with loving kindness; May I be free and live in safety;  May I be peaceful and happy; May I be free of fear and suffering; May I be healthy and live with ease." You can also add personalized wishes as long as they convey feelings of loving kindness. Moving on, then, you would send these wishes to others in sequence from those in close to distant relationships.  You do not always have to select the same people each time. For example, the beloved person could be a parent, a spouse or a best friend. The neutral person could be identifiable people you see as servers in a restaurant or store, and you can choose the same or different individual each time. With regard to the difficult person, I recommend beginning with an individual you are experiencing minor difficulties with rather than your most hostile enemy or abuser. Longer term practice of this meditation may be necessary to send loving kindness to your real enemies. As you practice this meditation you may discover an interesting result in that you run out of difficult people or enemies for this part of the meditation!

 

There is nothing magical about the exact words used above. In fact I find myself providing variations of these themes when I use this meditation.  For each person or category, I find myself starting and ending with the wish for loving kindness.  I do recommend starting with the word "may" in each portion of this meditation.

 

Before you start the meditation it may help to create a picture in your mind and heart of someone or something you truly love, care for and appreciate. You can focus on your heart area and breathe these loving feelings into your heart center as you begin the meditation. The goal is to really feel love, not just to recite words. I also find it helpful to place my hands over my heart.

 

I have been asked if we can send feelings of loving kindness to our deceased loved ones. My answer would be yes. We keep those loved ones in our minds and hearts and we can keep them in our prayers and meditations. Most major religions and most people believe in the survival of the spirit after death, and we can certainly communicate our love beyond the material world.

 

You can use some or all of your senses in order to develop heartfelt feelings of loving toward yourself and others.  You can foster a meditative mood using techniques to help you step out of your busy day into a period of peaceful calm. You can create an alpha or theta brainwave using meditative music such as hemi-sync CDs or any other peaceful music which appeals to you. If you want additional resources, I am enclosing references to two YouTube videos which you could use  invoke feelings of Loving Kindness: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kk_152PgySA  (9 minutes) and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Z5FFMcAHs4&NR=1  (6 minutes). A song for world peace and togetherness is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2lUdwbK8sk   (3 minutes). You can use cherished family pictures or memories to evoke warm and loving feelings. As you move the meditation from person to person, you can bring up a mental picture of the person and contemplate a sense of their positive qualities while repeating the affirmation statements toward each person. Feel their presence as much as possible. Be sure to engage your heart and not just your mind. Center your thoughts and feelings around your heart. You can also feel yourself breathe into your heart area. I usually put my hands over my heart in order to help generate and retain the heartfelt focus. Then let your affirmations spread throughout your entire being, heart as well as mind, feeling that warm glow of happiness and acceptance.

 

As you practice this meditation you'll find yourself able to tell when you are in a state of emotional coherence and loving kindness. You'll also be able to tell when you find yourself thinking in your mind instead of feeling in your heart. You'll be able to tell when your mind wanders away from the meditation. Being human, you'll find yourself off task at times. Don't scold yourself, just breathe into your heart and refocus on your feelings of love. You can feel yourself breathing in feelings of joy, perhaps also visualizing a beautiful sunrise or sunset, the ebb and flow of ocean waves or any other comforting scene. I do find the HeartMath emWave meter very helpful and I love to hear the chimes which tell me that I am in heart coherence.

 

 It's important that you begin each meditation centered upon positive and loving feelings toward yourself. You will be befriending yourself!  When you cultivate an attitude of loving kindness toward yourself, you will be developing positive habits to counteract low self-worth and negative self talk. This meditation is a wonderful antidote to self-esteem problems. The internal critic hates this meditation! You have to be able to practice being kind to yourself in order to fully care for and love other people. If you are experiencing difficulty with this part of the practice, you can use an admired picture of yourself and remember accolades given to you by others being transferred and absorbed into yourself. Another possibility is to use the meditation to promote self acceptance. For example you can direct wishes toward yourself such as: "May I love myself just as I am;" or "May I love every part of myself;" or "May I accept all parts of myself;" or "May I awaken to the goodness within myself." The meditation can be used flexibly so you can start with the world meditation if this will help you ease past your self-consciousness as long as you also end with the world meditation. If you experience a great deal of difficulty with this part of the practice, do work with a therapist to help foster a positive self-image.

 

The next part of the meditation will send loving kindness to family or friends or loved ones. You can rotate the people you use for this part of the meditation or use more than one name in this section. One or more, you will find yourself actively wishing for the happiness and well-being of these loved  individuals.  This meditation will help increase your capacity to be kind, thoughtful and generous to others and to develop true reciprocal intimacy. You will be fostering and practicing the art of giving to others. You may have noticed, as have I, that sometimes we experience difficulty with people we love. If you're having a conflict with someone you love, there is no reason that you cannot refer to them twice in this meditation, once in the loved one category and also in the difficult person category.

 

This meditation will, over time, help you in sorting through your negative feelings toward difficult people or enemies. This part of the meditation can begin with the concept, "May (difficult person) be filled with loving kindness." Obviously that would be a great outcome! You don't have to begin actually sending your love to this difficult person. You will be sending love to yourself as you practice your capacity to let go of negativity. You will be asserting your faith in your heart's capacity to grow and change toward a future of generosity and forgiveness. If you find yourself experiencing difficult negative feelings, anger or fear, you can visualize this difficult person far away from you so that you can feel safety and security as you work on this part of the meditation. In the end, after you have been practicing this meditation, you may find yourself experiencing altruistic love for difficult people in the same way that you are able to send positive feelings to any other living being. Please realize that this type of forgiveness is definitely not bestowing clemency for past abuses or turning the other cheek to receive more abuse. Please consult my article on forgiveness to further explain this concept. A therapist can also help you work on a constructive version of forgiveness as you learn to divest yourself of negative feelings toward your enemies.

 

The YouTube videos listed above can also help you with the concept of "all beings" in the entire world or you can just let pictures of people and countries run through your mind during this part of the meditation.  At the end point of the meditation you should have a feeling of unification with all parts of the world, all people, all animals, all creatures, all those in existence, near and far, known and unknown. The energy of these affirmations will then extend from you and beyond you in a boundless way throughout the earth. You may visualize sequences of people, animals, natural scenes, the earth from space, the stars and the galaxies beyond you.

 

You may find yourself carrying feelings of loving kindness in your heart throughout your day and generalizing beyond the few moments of meditation. You may find yourself being kind to yourself, countering the self-judging and self-criticism that we too often experience in our thoughts. You can actually begin to like, love and respect yourself as you would a good friend. You can treat clerks and others who serve you with thanks and good cheer, not as machines dispensing goods to you.          You may find opportunities to practice positive feelings in situations which otherwise could have engendered stress and negativity. For example, I found myself in one of those very long twisting lines waiting for the opportunity to take off my shoes and get checked through airline screening. With nothing else to do in the long line other than worry or criticize, I found myself generating loving kindness feelings toward my fellow travelers. I ended up with a more positive outlook and a better day for myself. When stressed you can find your heart focus and send a message to yourself such as, "May I be peaceful and calm." When stuck in traffic, for example, you may also add, "May everyone in this traffic be peaceful and calm."

 

The new science inspired by quantum physics has shown us that the world is actually constructed of energy, not matter, and that our thoughts and heart feelings are powerful transmissions of energy from our minds and bodies to the rest of the world. Science is actually measuring these transmissions! We used to believe that thoughts are just private chatter within our heads. Now we know that our thoughts affect our physical and mental makeup. Positive thoughts have a positive impact upon our health and positive intentions do attract positive results in our lives. (The converse is true that negativity breeds further negativity.)  Our positive thoughts are also communicated to others in ways we do not fully understand. Your loved ones may be drawn closer to you as they unconsciously, sometimes consciously, begin to perceive your warm and loving feelings. Difficult people or enemies may begin to perceive a thaw in your feelings without understanding why. These ideas are being explored in innovative ways such as the Global Consciousness Project (http://noosphere.princeton.edu/) containing more than 10 years of data on group consciousness effects.  You can participate in the Global Coherence Initiative sponsored by the HeartMath Institute (http://www.glcoherence.org/). 

 

The new science has also developed interesting ways to understand the essential connectivity between all beings. One concept is based on the "big bang" theory of the origin of the universe. All matter was once condensed together, then exploded and has been expanding since that time. We were once all join together in this primordial matter and have retained this elemental relationship since that time. We are all brothers and sisters of the universe.

 

I'd like to recommend two books for further reading on this topic. A new book, The Gift of Loving-kindness, by Mary Brantley and Tesilya Hanauer, New Harbinger, 2008, contains "100 mindful practices for compassion, generosity and forgiveness." The book contains many examples of ways to alter the meditation to achieve your goals developing and practicing loving kindness. A classic book in this area is Loving-Kindness, Sharon Salzberg, Shambhala, 1995.

 

I hope you will try this meditation, send your love out into the world and receive all the benefits yourself!

                               Betty W. Phillips, PhD., September, 2009

2011 Update:  When you start the meditation and refer to yourself you may want to start these statements by saying "I am" , as in "I am filled with Loving Kindness"  rather than "May I be filled with Loving Kindness."  The "I am" construction is a stronger statement.  When you are asking for something, you may be suggesting that you want but don't now have it.  When you practice this wonderful meditation, your heart will be filled with these qualities such as peace, joy and loving kindness.  Gregg Braden has addressed this in several of his books.  Wayne Dyer's book on this subject "Wishes Fulfilled" was published in February 2012.   We don't have to wait for great men to tell us this, however.  Please try "I am..."

                         
2013 Update.  In reading over this article and thinking how relevent this approach is for this coming year, I found a few additions to share with you.  The Chant of Metta cd by Imee Oui, both sung and chanted, can be purchased on Amazon.  Watching the youtube references I found the Song for World Peace upbeat and positive.  One Song by Mitchell Jay can be purchased on ITunes. 

My 2013 message for you is love and peace!