Loving Kindness Meditation

When I was first introduced to Loving Kindness meditation I thought, ‘What’s all this lovey-dovey stuff? I don’t need this! I want to be a proper meditator!’ I grew to realise that those who resist Loving Kindness meditation are perhaps the ones who need it the most – it’s now my primary meditation practice.

I think Loving Kindness meditation can be very important for people who have a chronic illness. We live in a individualistic society that rewards and lauds individual achievement, financial gain, and the perfect body. It’s easy to feel shame or guilt at having a disabling illness when we feel so different from people around us. Many New Age attitudes towards illness such ‘we manifest our illness’ and ‘we choose our illness’ can compound such feelings of failure and inadequacy.

This is why I think Loving Kindness meditation is so beneficial. It’s a mindfulness practice for the heart: a way to cultivate feelings of compassion and love for self, others and ultimately all beings. Buddhist meditation teaches a standard form of this meditation, which usually consists of sending loving kindness to yourself, then to a loved person, a neutral person, a person you have difficulties with, and finally, the whole world. Lisa Dale Miller provides a free audio podcast of guided Loving Kindness meditations.


I practice modified forms of Loving Kindness meditation depending on my levels of energy, and what issues are arising for me in my daily life. When I’m having difficult times, I pare this meditation back to only the first stage – sending loving kindness to myself. Here are some ways I do this:

  • I repeat these phrases 10 times each in my mind, whilst allowing any feelings of physical or emotional suffering to arise: “I care about this suffering, and I pay attention to it” and “I have friends and family who care about this suffering, and attend to it.” Just repeating these phrases slowly and calmly to myself helps me to acknowledge that my pain exists, and that it isn’t self-absorbed to pay attention to it, or care about it, while it’s here.
  • I visualise a Buddhist monk, somewhere in a monastery in Asia, doing Loving Kindness meditation and sending love, compassion, and care out into the world to everyone. I include myself in that ‘everyone’ and just allow myself to feel the Loving Kindness being sent towards me.
  • If I’m very tired, I’ll just repeat one or two words to myself throughout the day, whenever I remember to. These words might be ‘soft’, ‘gentle,’ ‘compassion,’ or even ‘yes.’ Whatever feeling or physical sensation arises, I will repeat these words – even if the feelings are those of bitterness, anger or resistance towards pain. I might say the words in my head, or just imagine them falling gently from above onto my body. It’s important for me not to force myself to feel anything specific in response to these words. If I repeat ‘soft’ to myself, and feel just frustration and anger, then that’s what I feel.
  • I pick an image that is soothing – it could be an image of a blue lake, a sunset, or of a smiling Buddha. I allow this image to appear before me and feel the warmth, or the peace that comes from this image. Again, it’s important for me not to push myself to feel anything in particular from the image, but just to give it to myself with a kind intention. I find if I focus on the image a few times, eventually I will feel the kindness, or the peace, that comes from the image.
Sunset over the water, with a boat in the middle.

A peaceful sunset can be a good meditation focus.

These are just a few ways that Loving Kindness meditation can be adapted for use when you’re having a particularly tough time. My experience with these meditations is that sometimes I’ll do them and my heart will be like stone; I’ll feel nothing. Another time I’ll do them and have tears running down my face and experience enormous feelings of kindness or compassion.

I’ve learnt that it’s not ‘me’ making anything happen in these meditations, and that my job is just to do the meditation, and let whatever happens happen. I’ve realised that even when I feel numb and unable to feel anything remotely like Loving Kindness, these meditations are still working. Repeating phrases or images of Loving Kindness to myself seems to me like growing flowers in the garden – you plant the seeds, tend to them, water them – and one day you’ll see the results of your efforts.

Resources:

Sharon Salzberg – a down-to-earth teacher focussing on insight and Loving Kindness meditation. Has a website with books and CD’s and here is an audio interview with Sharon Salzberg. One of her popular CD sets is Insight Meditation Kit: A Step By Step Course on How to Meditate.

Tara Brach – books, cd’s and podcasts. Tara is a psychologist and teacher of Buddhist insight meditation. She has a particular focus on dealing compassionately with issues such as shame and anger. A very gifted teacher who combines psychology and Buddhism.

Photo credits to Emma Corcoran to Wikimedia.

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2 responses to “Loving Kindness Meditation”

  1. Rosalind Joffe

    I studied meditation when I was 24 with Sharon Salzburg and although she was my age (or maybe younger?) at the time, she was an amazing teacher even then. I was quite healthy in body at that time but this meditation led me to see how much we can grow when this is our starting place. I’m so glad to hear that you find it helpful, Ricky.

  2. Corcoran

    Oh, how lucky to have actually done a retreat with Sharon Salzburg! I’ve got a few of her talks on my itunes and listen to them all the time. She’s such a gifted teacher.

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