Breathe In, Give Back: An Introduction To Loving-Kindness Meditation
Of all the different kinds of meditation out there, there's one that's especially powerful for cultivating compassion and extending the benefits of one's meditation practice to others. It's called loving-kindness meditation, metta meditation, or maitrī meditation in Sanskrit. Here's what this practice is all about, plus a guided loving-kindness meditation to try for yourself.
The origins and benefits of a loving-kindness practice.
Loving-kindness meditation is thought to have originated in ancient India, before the time of the Buddha. Since then, it's become known as a traditionally Buddhist philosophy and practice, but the ideas of loving-kindness, compassion, or maitrī, can also be found in Hindu and Jain texts.
In these meditations, the object is to cultivate and send out compassion to the world and all living beings in it, including ourselves. According to Marci Quinn, spiritual author of A Teen's Spirit: Changing the World Through Love and Kindness, "A loving kindness meditation is a powerful tool to help you experience forgiveness and compassion for yourself, those you know, and even those you don't. By actively visualizing yourself extending love to people during your meditation, a deep sense of peace and calmness sets in."
"Aside from the sense of peace that you can receive," Quinn notes, "this practice can help improve your relationships with family and friends with whom you may normally have deep-rooted, recurring issues. Offering love and forgiveness to those who may not seem to 'deserve' it is one of the most transformational choices you can make in your life."
What to think about during your loving-kindness sit.
This is, of course, totally up to you, and can change from day to day. But to help get you started, one common mantra that focuses on the metta, is: "May all human beings everywhere be healthy, happy, and free."
In addition to that, Quinn adds it's also beneficial to choose people that you may have negative feelings toward or unresolved issues with. "Bringing them into your meditation will help open pathways to actually feel forgiveness and compassion for them despite any of their perceived wrongdoings or shortcomings. In offering love and kindness to others, you can be sure you will receive it as well."
Once you can extend that love and compassion to those you may struggle with, it opens the pathway to healing. "A loving-kindness meditation practice will help shift your perspective of others (and yourself) from fear-based to love-based thoughts," she notes, "which helps open you up to receive all the blessings you deserve."
Tips on making your practice more effective.
It's no secret that meditation can be a bit of a struggle for many people. Quinn notes you can make your loving-kindness meditation practice more effective by thinking about positive memories you have of others while you're meditating. Here are a few more meditation tips that can help guide and anchor your practice:
- Feel the sensations that come up when you think about those you love.
- When thinking about and sending love to those you might have issues with, notice which feelings come up then, too.
- Picture two people side by side: one you love, and one you have past grievances with. Recognize they are the same and send them both love.
- Try not to resist or fight any unpleasantness or thoughts that come up.
- Be mindful of your posture.
- Make it a walking meditation if you can't sit still.
- Be gentle with yourself.
A guided loving-kindness meditation.
Follow along to this loving-kindness meditation, created by certified yoga instructor, reiki master, and sound healer Susy Schieffelin.
A 10-minute, guided sound bath meditation for heart healing and loving-kindness:
- Begin by finding a comfortable place of stillness.
- Allow your eyes to gently close and bring your attention to your breath. Take a deep inhale through your nose and a full exhale through your mouth. Take another deep breath in, all the way down into your belly, and let it go.
- Imagine going deep within your heart, until you find a place of stillness. A place of peace. And in that place, begin to call in a version of yourself. You might imagine yourself as you are today, or maybe you imagine yourself as a child, or at a moment in time when you felt sad or lonely. A time when you could have used a little bit more love.
- Imagine yourself—notice your face, notice what you're wearing. Connect with how you feel in that moment, and then begin to imagine yourself at that moment in time, surrounded by white light. Become aware that this light is a very special light. It is a peaceful, healing light. A light of pure, unconditional love.
- Imagine sending this light to that version of yourself, allowing the light to melt away any sadness, any loneliness or worry, any fear, any heaviness or heartache. Imagine the light melting it all away, enveloping you in a soft, warm glow of unconditional love. Allow yourself to receive that love, and with every breath you take, feel that light growing bigger and brighter. Imagine yourself melting and dissolving, becoming pure love.
- Feel a sense of healing, a knowing that somehow everything is OK, breathing in love and kindness and exhaling to just let go.
- When you feel as though you've fully received this love, maybe there's someone else in your life you'd like to send love to today. Someone who could use some extra love and kindness. Feel this person in your heart, and just as you did for yourself, imagine enveloping them in healing, white light. Imagine sending them so much love. Send them kindness and comfort. Send them the message that everything is OK. Feel them receive it.
- And now imagine our whole world. Billions of people, animals, plants. Imagine our planet Earth, and surround the Earth in healing, white light. Imagine sending unconditional love, kindness, and healing. Imagine that light dissolving all the pain, all the heartache, all the suffering. Imagine this light of love filling our world with joy. filling our world with peace. Filling our world with hope.
- In closing, take a deep inhale through your nose. Sigh it out through your mouth. When you're ready, start to become aware of your body, wiggling your fingers and your toes. Circle your wrists and your ankles, maybe even stretch your arms up overhead as though you are awakening to a new day, a new version yourself, of your life, of this world. A world filled with love and kindness, hope and peace. Feel the openness of your heart, and when you're ready, gentle blink your eyes open. Welcome back.
The bottom line.
In our humble opinion, there's never a bad time for more loving-kindness on this Earth, so give this meditation technique a try next time you or someone you know needs a little love—or you simply want to send the planet all the loving energy you can.
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Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.