My loving kindness meditation
Welcome to the holiday season. Whatever you celebrate or whether you celebrate a holiday or not… this time of year introduces some stressors that can increase your anxiety and rock your normal calm self. There can be lots of activities, an increase in visitors, shopping places are more crowded, other people are feeling more stress and that can transfer to you. Sometimes there are financial burdens as part of the holidays. Even the colder temperatures can make some of us feel stressed.
Great! Happy holidays? Well, just because there’s more stress possibilities in the air doesn’t mean you have to suck them all in. You can sail thru the holidays (and the rest of the year for that matter) by putting a bit more effort in your self-care program.
Self care, say what?
If you don’t consciously have a self care program… just the fact that you’re here at Group Meditation means you do, or you’re hoping to. Making a more conscious effort to care well for yourself has so many benefits to our body, mind and spirit. Your happy, chill self benefits those around you also. Meditation is part of your self-care programs. Good job.
It won’t hurt to ponder from time to time how else you can care well for yourself. Self care is different for each of us. Think about something that always makes you feel calm, loved, happy. Maybe it’s a long walk on a lovely day. Some people need time for a long bath, or just some quiet time to read or yes, meditate. If you wait for someone else to show to up make your self-care their priority, may I suggest that you might want to switch priorities. Self-care is just that… something that each of us should do for ourselves. Okay, end of lecture. Self care… get some for the holidays.
And of course, I have a great meditation to add to your self care project.
The loving kindness meditation is a meditation practice taught by the Buddha to develop the mental habit of selfless or altruistic love. In Buddhist teaching (the Dhammapada to be exact) there is this saying: “Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness, and dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on loving-kindness.”
There’s a clear concept at work here to me. I can either choose to surround myself with positive energy or not. If I worry, spend time angry at another or focus on feeling unloved… all these and so many more don’t make me feel good. (yes, Einstein here. Haha!) When you are feeling emotions or thinking thoughts that drag you down, you can choose to take a different action. You can choose to think or feel something that makes you feel good. Now, with practice, you’ll have a ready repertoire of things (movies in your head, if you will) that bring you joy, fill your heart and light you up. All this is surrounding you in positive energy thus you feel better. The idea is not to worry about bad results, picture good results. It takes the same energy and makes you and everyone around you feel so much better.
Since maybe this whole “make yourself feel good” thing is a new idea to you, I present the loving kindness meditation. It’s the place to begin if you don’t have a positive “movie” ready in your head to run.
Our goal with loving kindness meditation is to first begin practicing self love. Secondly, you start practicing loving others who love you back… loving those you’re already fond of and secure in their love. Later, you practice loving those you may not know well but feel neutral about. Neutral means you just don’t know them well or you know them but don’t really love them but don’t dislike them either. And at higher levels, the loving kindness meditation gives you an opportunity to practice loving those you don’t know and even those you dislike. But, have no fear… it’s a gradual process and when you do this exercise alone, you can take it just as far as you want to. On a great day, you may want to explore loving the whole world… and when you’ve had a tough day or are feeling vulnerable, you may want to just practice loving you and those you love.
This loving-kindness meditation is used in many forms by many teachers. If you have the sort of personality that would like to see a bit more solid research on how this meditation stuff really works, this particular meditation has been researched and proven to be very beneficial. The easiest info to access is a study don’t by stanford professor, Emma Seppälä, ph.D, is Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and the author of The Happiness Track (HarperOne, 2016). You can visit her website to learn more
We live in a world filled with many different people living within boundaries made by men. In order to move towards peace within your own heart and in the world, it is important to focus on the similarities between all peoples. All people want love. They want food and shelter for themselves and their families. They want a meaningful and satisfying life. In our hearts… in our higher selves we are all very much alike. Some believe we are all connected or even part of a one heart, love, spirit at our higher self level. The loving-kindness meditation hopes to help each of us move to a place where we can be more open and loving to others, those we know and those we don’t know- those who are like us and those who are different in some way.
Today we will explore all the levels of the loving kindness meditation so you can see the progression.
1. Find a comfortable seat on the floor, in a chair… whatever is your go-to meditation position. Take a nice relaxing deep breath, pause and exhale slowly. Scan your body for areas that might not feel relaxed and on the next breath, breathe into those areas that need tension to be released. Be aware that you are supported by chair or floor with feet comfortably relaxed and supported. Breathe in again, pause and exhale. Relax your neck and shoulders. A little rolling and stretching of neck and shoulders is perfectly acceptable. Relax your arms, your hands, your fingers. Relax your hips, your knees, your feet. Relax your face, your scalp, your tongue.
Once you’re feeling centered and comfy, just let go and breathe. Let your thoughts slow, feel a calmness pour over you. If you brain can’t slow down, pop it out (in your mind’s eye) and let it rest on the shelf over there with my brain… keeps the noise levels down for us over here meditating. Pat that busy brain on the head like a 3 year old and let it run off to play. Your brain is safe over there and you could use the space. Relax and breathe and settle into the quiet.
2. As you breathe in, imagine you are breathing in lovely white light. When you exhale, this light stays with you and just junk you don’t need gets breathed out. Next inhale, bring in more bright white light and so on. Breathe at your own pace and imagine or visualize this lovely white light around you. Continue to relax and breathe.
3. Say to yourself, “May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.” Continue this for a bit. If changing the words a bit make you more comfortable, then go for it. But you only want to wish yourself kindness, goodness, joy, health and love.
For some, this practice alone is a huge departure from your norm. If it feels uncomfortable, that’s okay. If it makes you feel panicky, just breathe. Some of us need to start by saying something like, “I’m okay. It’s okay. I’m doing a good thing. I’m fine.” If this is you, then just relax into this portion of the meditation and don’t feel like you need to go further. One step at a time. Trust your body and spirit. There’s time to grow into the rest of this.
4. If you’ve gotten comfortable with expressing those loving messages to yourself then imagine or visualize someone you love beside you. On the next inhale, see the white light around you expanding to surround this loved one also. Just having this person near you brings you joy. It can be someone who is dear to you, a friend, parent, relative, someone who is alive or has passed on. But their presence makes you calm, makes you smile. Imagine saying to this loved one, “May you be happy. May you be well, May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.” Continue this for a bit.
Remember each of us is in charge of how far we wish to progress with this meditation. You can practice self love for a month or whatever before you might feel ready to bring in another people as in this step. Whatever is good for you is fine. But try to discern the difference between something that feels uncomfortable because it’s new and something that you really don’t feel ready for. Self care means just that… take care of yourself.
5. When you feel ready, imagine or visualize someone you respect and trust on the other side of you. This could be a teacher, a famous person in history that you have learned from, a family member or friend. On the next inhale, see the white light around you expanding to surround this respected one also. Just having this person near you inspires you.
Now say to this honored one, “May you be happy. May you be well, May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.” Change the wording or the image as you might need to. Continue repeating the wishes for loving kindness for a bit.
6. If you’re with us in group, you are surrounded by people who you are comfortable with but don’t know. If you’re doing this meditation on your own, imagine a group of people you don’t know well but feel neutral about maybe people you work with or some group you know of but don’t know well. On your next inhale, imagine you are surrounding them with white light. Begin saying to them in your mind, “May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.”
7. By now, we’ve created a lot of light. Let’s imagine that on our next inhale, we’re going to shine our light on this entire city block. Here you could find all sorts of people, many we know nothing about. Yet we choose to wish them well also. We wish to send them loving-kindness. So say to this imagined part of the city, “May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.”
8. Creating light energy isn’t like physical work. It’s light… it’s free, expansive and easy to make. It’s possible in our imaginations to visualize shining a loving light over the whole state of Ohio. Obviously filled with many people- a few we know, most we don’t. There might be a few people in this group that you don’t like, for whatever reason. But regardless of that, we are going to wish them well. We are going to send them loving-kindness. So say to this whole state, “May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.”
9. Relax and breathe. Pause for a moment and sense the energy in this room. It’s very different than it was when we started this meditation. So, why stop when we’ve got such a good thing going? On your next inhale, let’s imagine shining a bright white light full of love over our whole world. Try not to think about the people on this planet and being different from you. They all seek love and happiness. They want shelter and food for their family. They hope to have a meaninful and satisfying life. Choose to shine your light of loving-kindness over the whole planet and say “May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.”
10. Now with your heart wide open and our whole world filled with light, I want you to open your hands. On this next inhale, scoop up this light and love and pull it into your heart. Hold this love there and continue breathing comfortably. If you will, I ask that you might repeat after me. “May we all be happy.” repeat. “May we all be well.” repeat. “May we all be safe.” repeat. “May we all be peaceful and at ease.”
Now, rest your arms and just sit and rest in this light for a few moments.
Wait… a bit.
Now, come back into your awareness of this room. Gently open your eyes. Stretch a bit if you need too. May you take all this love we created today with you every day of your life. Namaste.