It is true that many people are often troubled by various challenging emotional states coming from almost all areas of their lives and are barely able to deal with them properly.
There are times we feel we acted too timidly in the recent past, some times too harsh, too hateful or perhaps too angry and cruel to others.
This is the nature of emotions and we are inclined to acting out of emotions more often than not which takes us completely out of balance with ourselves and affects our relationships with others.
Loving kindness meditation that was taught by the Buddha can help us increase our ability to love, accommodate, forgive and create genuine relations with others while accepting and loving everyone as they are.
It goes a long way in keeping our emotional states balanced and improving the quality of our lives.
What is Loving Kindness Meditation?
Loving kindness meditation is a form of meditation that is aimed at improving the virtues of generosity, genuine love and concern for others within the lives of the meditators.
It cultivates the thoughts of love and compassion and builds a strong foundation for them within your heart that in turn helps you to get rid of negative thoughts of hate and dislike for others.
As the Dhammapada (the book known to keep records of the Buddha’s direct teaching to his disciples) says, hatred is not able to exist together with love and kindness, and it vanishes if replaced with thoughts based on loving kindness.
Ideally, loving kindness meditation establishes the thoughts and actions of love and kindness within you that naturally helps to put away any negative thoughts patterns and habits that weigh your life down.
The people who do this type of meditation on a regular basis grow in true concern for other people’s lives, loving acceptance and the ability to forgive and understand others.
This practice is also known to increase emotional strength, balance and intelligence that helps you know how to live with others in peace and happiness despite all the hardships that come with relating with other people.
How Loving Kindness Meditation Works
Loving kindness meditation is also known as metta meditation. Meta is word from Pali that means kindness, affection and friendship.
This meditation seeks to enhance positive thoughts of love, compassion and kindness towards ourselves and others.
It starts with ourselves, that is the self. Through the practice, we get to know and understand how to love, be compassionate towards ourselves and how we can accept ourselves just as we are.
Only by loving ourselves can we be able to love others. And this puts into perspective the saying which is many people’s favorite, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Also, as a practice that originates from the Buddhist traditions, it strengthens some of the teachings of the Buddha like, “You yourself, as much as anybody else in the entire universe deserve your love and affection” and “We cannot recognize love in others unless we have it for ourselves”.
Also, when we learn to love ourselves, accept our strengths and weaknesses and see ourselves as unique, we are not only able to have the same for others but also have the confidences to do it as have truly found ourselves.
Only when we are healed are we able to take care of other people.
After the self, we now go to extending the values of kindness, care and compassion to others.
Loving kindness is the first of the 4 states of mind that the Buddha recommended for self mastery. Loving kindness or Metta is the first. Compassion which is also called Karuna is the second. The third is appreciative joy which is also known as Mudita. And the fourth is equanimity which is also referred to as Upekkha.
By doing loving kindness meditation frequently, we grow in mind and body and our hearts are more inclined towards these beautiful qualities that set the pace for us to treat other people much better even in heated situations.
The fruit of this practice is not seeking to achieve a certain goal by meditating but simply to experience the process and dwell in it.
It is all about knowing how to live in the experience of love and kindness throughout your life. And the good thing about it is that you can do it at any time and in any place.
You don’t need to have any form of strict arrangements to make it work as it is very malleable and anyone regardless of their age, spiritual and religious beliefs and background can do it.
How Loving Kindness Meditation is Unique From Other Meditation Styles
Loving kindness, compared to other forms of meditation is quite different and takes a different approach to self-improvement.
Unlike other meditations that encourage you to focus on the present moment experience of the mind and body or energies without any actions, loving kindness meditation teaches you to put your focus on your self first and improving upon your mind, thoughts and action towards yourself and then to others.
It gives you the tools you need to have more kindness towards yourself.
This practice is somewhat similar to compassion meditation as far as approach is concerned and they are often used together, although there is a slight difference between the two.
While awareness based meditations such as mindfulness meditation and Vipassana meditation train the mind to observe thoughts and feelings in the present moment without judgment or prejudice, loving kindness meditation encourages the mind to uphold positive feelings of love, compassion and kindness that are beneficial to you and others as well, on the long term.
Please note that this doesn’t mean that other forms of meditation which have been mentioned are in any way inferior to loving kindness meditation.
No, each form of meditation is useful in its own way and has its set of benefits that are uniquely different from others.
There is no meditation type that is above the other in terms of value, it all depends on what you are after as a person and how well the form you choose is suited for you.
Benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation
Here are the benefits that are linked to practicing loving-kindness meditation:
1. Enhances emotional intelligence – Consistently doing loving kindness meditation helps you learn to be aware of, express and control your emotions when dealing and relating with others. The knowledge and understanding you get from daily practice of this meditation gives you the ability to treat people in a much better way, just as you would like to be treated.
2. Reduces the tendency to be partial towards others – By learning to be loving, kind and compassionate to all people and living beings, you are able to view and treat everyone with equal amount of affection. Studies show that those who do this meditation find it easier to treat all people without partiality (1).
3. Increases the virtue of compassion – By wishing every living being well more often, through meditation, you are able to grow stronger in the virtue of compassion. Practicing and applying love and kindness in every day life allows the mind and heart to be more immersed in this virtue that improves your ability to be compassionate.
4. Increases positivity – Studies reveal that through loving kindness meditation, we learn to dwell on well wishes and by extending love, affection and joy to people reduces the negative feelings of hate, stress, anxiety and depression and helps you have a more positive outlook on life (2).
5. Reduces self-criticism – A study done on people who had self-criticism showed that loving kindness meditation helped to foster the virtue of self compassion which went a long way in helping the participants reduce negative thoughts and become more self compassionate (3).
6. Improves your social life – A study that involved a group of participants who went through loving kindness meditation revealed that people who meditate have a better experience of positive emotions and perception of social connections than those who don’t (4).
7. May reduce symptoms of PTSD – A study on people with PTSD showed that loving kindness meditation is able to reduce the symptoms of PTSD and depression on the long term. By building self compassion through the practice, these negative symptoms are reduced which go a long way for the person suffering from this condition (5).
8. May reduce symptoms of chronic pain – Another study on chronic lower back pain patients found that loving kindness meditation can be beneficial in lowering pain, anger and psychological stress in patients who have constant lower back pain (6).
9. May reduce symptoms of migraine – A study on how meditation based treatment manages and reduces the effect of pain especially with migraines showed that loving kindness meditation significantly reduces migraine pain and the emotional tension that comes with it (7).
10. Increases contentment and inner joy – A group of participants in a study were assigned daily loving kindness meditation practice and results showed that it increased their daily experience of positive emotions that in turn improved the level of mindfulness, purpose in life and decreased symptoms of illnesses. This leads to life satisfaction (8).
11. Reduces schizophrenia-spectrum disorders – A pilot study that involved 18 participants with schizophrenia-spectrum disorders and significant negative symptoms showed that after going through loving kindness meditation training, the negative symptoms decreased, positive symptoms increased and there was psychological recovery (9).
How to do Loving Kindness Meditation
For beginners, it is always recommended that you start out with guided meditation for loving kindness before you can do it on your own.
Using guided meditation resources such as apps, videos or audios allows you to focus completely on the session without having worry if you are doing it right.
You also get to learn how to do it easily with time all the while having a full experience of the practice in your first few sessions.
After you do it for a good deal of time and feel you are now confident with it, you can choose to do it alone or keep going with guided meditation. It is all based on your choice and preference.
However, if you want to learn to do it without help right off the bat, that is still fine.
You should also note that there are many ways to do loving kindness meditation based on different factors. Here is a standard yet very useful walk through you can work with:
Step 1: Get a quiet and comfortable place to sit.
Step 2: Close your eyes and keep them closed throughout the whole session for deep visualization and inner awareness.
Step 3: Rest your feet on the floor and keep your spine erect.
Step 4: Take note of your breathing and relax as you take deep refreshing breaths.
Step 5: Now focus on yourself. Picture yourself having total physical and emotional wellness. Feel it within and imagine yourself experiencing it. Imagine feeling very satisfied with everything about your life and feel that love for yourself bubbling over. Feel that sense of deep inner peace, harmony and happiness. Feel everything in and about you is perfect and experience the joy that comes with that.
Step 6: As you breathe in, feel yourself taking in the feelings of love and self compassion and as you breathe out, let out the feelings of tension, anxiety and all other negative feelings.
Step 7: Now say these phrases to yourself and imagine receiving these phrases as blessings, allowing them to become part of you.
– May I be happy just as I am
– May I be healthy and strong
– May I be safe from all harm
– May I be peaceful and accepting of whatever is happening
– May I have the ability to accept and forgive
(Feel free to change these phrases and work with other phrases that you feel speak to you at a deeper level)
Step 8: Dwell on these beautiful phrases for a while and feel the meaning of every word inside you. In case your attention is lost to other things, gently bring it back to your feelings and let them overwhelm you.
Step 9: Now imagine someone you really love and care about. It could be your spouse, child, sibling, parents or even best friend. Imagine the same feelings of love, compassion and kindness that you had for yourself. Visualize them standing in front of you and say these phrases to them, meaning every word:
– May you be happy
– May you be healthy and strong
– May you be safe from all harm
– May you be peaceful and accepting of whatever is happening
– May you have the ability to accept and forgive
Step 10: Stay with these feelings for a while and feel them deeply within you. Let your heart go out to the person you have in mind and see them experiencing these things that you wish for them.
Step 11: Repeat the same with your family in mind, then your friends, relatives and colleagues.
Step 12: Repeat the same with a person or group that you are neutral towards (people you don’t know and don’t feel anything towards like the people in the same bus you took yesterday, people you were standing in line with and such)
Step 13: Repeat the same with a person or people who hurt you and whom you are finding it difficult to love and forgive. It could be a friend who bailed out on you when you needed them the most, people who betrayed you, abused you or made you feel like a loser.
Step 14: Repeat the same with everyone in the world. Have well wishes of love and happiness for everyone in the world and feel it deep within you.
Step 15: When you are done, now bring your focus back to yourself and how you feel after that rejuvenating experience. Notice your breathing and the inner peace and calmness you have gained. Then slowly open your eyes.
Step 16: Your meditation session is now over.
Always remember that you can go back to the same thoughts and feelings of love, compassion and kindness anytime you want throughout the day.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) on Loving Kindness Meditation
Question: Which are some of the ways of awakening feelings of loving kindness within me?
Answer: There are 3 ways you can do that:
First, is through reflection – Take time to ponder over the admirable qualities of a person you are wishing well for in your session. Consider all that you have seen and experienced with them. When it comes to yourself, you should consider using words that describe you, which you know have a personal touch with a deep effect.
Second, is through visualization – Here, you create a mental picture of the person you are sending well wishes to and try to see them in a happy state and laughing together.
Third, is through verbal effects – This is all about verbally uttering words that trigger your emotions. Words such as kindness, love and affection that stir up your emotions really come in handy.
Question: What other names are used to refer to loving kindness meditation?
Answer: Loving kindness meditation is also called metta meditation or metta bhavana.
In essence, this exercise is all about learning to make your heart big enough to accommodate yourself, the people you love, people you don’t know as well as those who you don’t really get along with.
By building the virtues of love, kindness, selflessness and compassion, you are able to see things from a deeper perspective, learn how to love and tolerate everyone and have an easier time living with others.
But remember, this form of meditation, just like all others, require time, patience and practice. It may seem a little daunting at first but with time and consistency, you will be able to make it work for you.