Loving kindness meditation opens your heart for healing as you send love.
All the great world spiritual traditions speak of the power of love:
- Buddha taught loving kindness to help free people from suffering.
- Jesus taught, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
On the other hand, afflictive emotions like hate and anger fuel much of the pain and suffering in the world. They spark wars, murder, emotional pain, and all sorts of harm.
Loving kindness meditation cultivates positive emotions.
Studies show that it increases a wide range of personal resources, such as mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, and decreased illness symptoms. These personal resources predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.
What About Love for Those You Don’t Like?
Some wonder, “How do I cultivate love for someone who wronged me, who I sincerely do not like?”
Consider how holding afflictive emotions such as hate and resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other to die. You are the one experiencing their effects: effects that distract you from happiness and peace, effects that interfere with sleep and may trigger sustained release of stress chemicals in your body.
Loving kindness meditation frees the troubled mind from pain and confusion.
Loving kindness offers a path for spiritual development. It’s a rare person who can say he or she has never harmed another. So, we are all in need of receiving loving kindness as well as sending it.
Loving Kindness Meditation Steps
Loving kindness begins with developing loving acceptance of your self and spreads out to those close to you and on to the earth and universe.
Some people have difficulty feeling love, especially for themselves. If this is so for you, try these “How to Love Your Self Tips.”
Step 1: Create the Conditions for Meditation
Find a quiet and comfortable place where you can be undisturbed.Remove shoes and any restrictive clothing.
Assume a sitting position, either on a chair or sitting on a pillow in a modified lotus (yoga style) position with your spine straight (not stiff).
Eyes may be closed or open with soft focus.
Step 2: Loving Kindness For Self
- Focus attention on the breath, which you will use as a means to spread loving kindness. If you notice sounds or thoughts let them go and gently return to your meditation.
- You may visualize the breath (loving kindness) as a light or warm ray or simply think of the breath as love.
- Slowly sweep the breath (love, warm ray, or light) over your body starting from the top of your head. Feel the nourishment of loving kindness.
- Lightly focus your attention on the center of your chest, your heart.
- As you breath in, direct loving kindness to your heart.
- As you breathe out, let loving kindness spread out from the heart, through the body, through the mind; through your whole being. Feel it nourishing you.
- Say words that embody all that you wish for your self. For instance, “I love myself unconditionally,” I love others unconditionally,” and “May I be happy, may I be well.”
- Continue in this manner until it feels right to move to the next step.
Step 3: Loving Kindness For Loved Ones
- Follow 1 though 6.
- Now, form an image in your mind of your loved one, or simply think of her or him.
- As you breathe out send loving kindness to your loved one.
- Say words that embody your wish for them, for instance “May you be happy, may you be well.”
- Continue sending love to as many loved ones as you wish using the same method as above.
Step 4: Loving Kindness For a Neutral Person
- Repeat step 3, only this time form an image of a neutral person, someone you do not know, like a clerk in a store.
- Now as you breathe out send loving kindness to the neutral person.
Step 5: Loving Kindness For a Hostile Person
Repeat step 3, only this time form an image of someone you are having difficulty with.
Step 6: Radiate Loving Kindness
Now, use the same process as above to send loving kindness to your home, neighborhood, town, country, the earth, and the universe.
What did You Notice?
Take a moment to reflect on your meditation.
If it was difficult for you, start with only a few minutes and focus only on the first step. Increase the time and steps as you feel ready. A good goal is 10 minutes a day.
Don’t worry if your mind wanders during meditation. Sustaining your attention and developing patience are important benefits you will receive from practice.
You may use different persons or locations in each of the categories over time, but it’s best to keep them in the same order.
By its very nature, this practice increases optimism while it overcomes self-doubt and negativity.
As you mature in the practice of loving kindness, you will find that your mind is the source of much of the conflict and pain you experience.
Loving kindness acts as an antidote for emotional pain.
Follow these steps to enjoy loving kindness meditation; open your heart for natural healing.
Sources and Resources
Amaravati Buddhist Center, UK, “Introduction to Insight Meditation,” (1988).
His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Ethics For The New Millennium, New York: Riverhead Books, (1999) 106-107.
Fredrickson, B., et. al., “Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, No. 5, 2008: 1045-62.
Rigpa (an international network of meditation centers and groups under the guidance of Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying), http://www.rigpa.org.
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, “How to Meditate,” Shambala Sun (July, 1994).
Ven. Pannyavaro, “Loving Kindness Meditation,” Buddha Dharrma Education Association, http://www.buddhanet.net.