As I write this, Christmas is only a few days away, with its universal proclamation of the hope that all of us–regardless of our personal spiritual orientations–hold in our hearts: “Peace on Earth; Goodwill to Men.”
Given the tension in the world, it’s a hope that may seem nearly impossible these days. But there is a way to make it real within our own lives–and to extend it to others.
Gandhi counseled, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If we truly wish for peace and goodwill, it’s up to us to live them. And to the extent that we do, we tip the scales in their favor, while experiencing their soothing warmth in our own hearts.
With that in mind, and as my holiday gift to you, I want to share with you a powerful practice called “Loving Kindness Meditation.”
Rooted in Buddhism, it’s been the subject of positive psychology studies as well, conducted by world renowned researcher Dr. Barbara Fredrickson.
What she discovered is that Loving Kindness Meditation increased both how often and how powerfully participants experienced a wealth of positive emotions:
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Not only that, but the participants experienced more mindfulness, self-acceptance, positive relationships and good health. And over time, the good feelings strengthened their sense of satisfaction with their lives and built the resources available to them to live fully and well.
What is Loving Kindness Meditation?
The phrase “loving kindness” comes from the Pali word metta. Its meaning embraces the concepts of friendliness, goodwill, benevolence, fellowship, inoffensiveness and non-violence as well.
In his article titled, “Metta: The Philosophy and Practice of Universal Love,” Acharya Buddharakkhita says, “True metta is devoid of self-interest. It evokes within a warm-hearted feeling of fellowship, sympathy and love, which grows boundless with practice and overcomes all social, religious, racial, political and economic barriers. Metta is indeed a universal, unselfish and all-embracing love.”
Loving Kindness Meditation is a practice of sending loving thoughts to all breathing beings, starting with you.
How Do You Practice It?
Although practicing it will reveal many layers of yourself to you, the process itself is simple.
As with any meditation, you begin by relaxing in a comfortable position, with eyes closed, in a place where you can be undisturbed. Then, putting a gentle smile on your face, let go of any negative thought or feeling. Begin by saying to yourself, “May I be safe from danger; May I be healthy; May I be happy; May I live with ease.” Just breathe for awhile and sincerely wish yourself these blessings.
After you have practiced wishing yourself well for a several sessions, practice sending your wishes for safety, health, happiness and ease to your circle of loved ones, imagining each of them one at a time and speaking your wishes to him or her directly in your mind.
The next stage is to move on to those people whom you know casually—neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, members of your community.
After that comes the challenging part: to send your four wishes to those toward whom you feel anger or resentment or hostility.
And finally, you send your well-wishes to everyone, everywhere, as sincerely as you can.
Another variation is to begin with yourself, then, in the same session, to send your wishes outwards to others in the same order listed above, ending with your wishes circling the entire globe.
The Many Layers of Loving Kindness Meditation
The article by Buddharakkhita mentioned above beautifully describes the power and practice of loving kindness meditation. It’s a graceful, easy read and gives a couple methods as well as the original phrases used in the meditation. It explains how wishing is willing, and how willing can have causal effects, bringing about genuine reconciliation and healing.
Sharon Salzberg, co-founder and senior instructor of Insight Meditation Society, has a CD set, Lovingkindness Meditation, that I, personally, have very much enjoyed and that has helped me with my own practice and understanding, as well as books on the subject. She introduces you to the nuances of the meditation and guides you past the obstacles you face when you try sincerely to love yourself, and when you’re dealing with those in the “enemy” category. And she makes it all feel so human and natural and puts you at ease.
Even if you decide that a steady practice of it isn’t for you, doing a few casual rounds of it in the morning when you think of it can make a tremendous difference in your day. That’s what the participants in Dr. Fredrickson’s studies discovered. They also found that it was easy to stick with because each session had its subtle variations; it didn’t get old.
“May you be safe; May you be healthy; May you be happy; May you live with ease.” That’s all there is to it: A wish from your heart for peace and goodwill for everyone, everywhere.
And this holiday season, and always, that is my wish for you.
Pass it on!