Cultivating Loving Kindness Through Meditation

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Picture of Leslie Larsen, LCSWBy Leslie Larsen, LCSW

What is loving kindness? Loving-kindness is described by Hoffman, Grossman, Hinton (2011) as a mental state of unselfish and unconditional kindness for all beings. Is this an ideal time for cultivating unconditional kindness? Yes, now is the perfect time. You may be asking yourself, how do I begin cultivating more kindness? One option is participating in loving-kindness meditations. A loving-kindness meditation involves directly well-wishing through repeated phrases such as, “May all beings everywhere be happy“.

What does research say about cultivating kindness through loving-kindness meditation?  Hutcherson, Seppala and Gross 2008 found that practitioners of loving-kindness meditations experienced increased feelings of social connectedness. In 2012 Leung, Chan, Yin, Lee, So and Lee published a study suggesting that individuals who participate in loving-kindness meditations demonstrate increased ability in regulating their emotions and increased accuracy in inferring the thoughts and feelings of others (also known as empathetic accuracy).

Alright, so how do you do loving-kindness meditation?  There are numerous sites on the internet providing audio for loving-kindness meditations.  I have included a few of those links below:

If you would rather read a loving-kindness meditation to yourself or someone else, here is a script:

Loving Kindness Meditation

As your body becomes still, bring your attention to your breathing and become aware of the movement of your breath as it comes into your body and as it leaves your body.  Do not manipulate the breath in any way or try to change it.  Simply be aware of it and of the feelings associated with breathing.  Observe the breath deep down in your belly.  Feel the abdomen as it expands gently on the in breath, and as it falls back towards your spine on the outbreath.  Be totally here in each moment with each breath. Try not to do anything, not trying to get any place, simply be with your breath. Give full care and attention to each in breath and to each outbreath as they follow one after the other in a never ending cycle and flow.  If distracting thoughts arise, acknowledge them, and then return to the practice.

Now bring to mind someone for whom you have deep feelings of love. See or sense this person and notice your feelings for them as it arises in your body.  It may simply be a smile that spreads across your face, or your chest becomes warm.  Whatever the effects, allow them to be felt.

Now let go of this person in your imagination, and keep in awareness the feelings that have arisen.  Bring yourself to mind now and see if you can offer lovingkindness to yourself, by letting these words become your words…

May I be well

May I be happy

May I be safe

May I live in peace

Notice the feelings that arise and let them be, as you look within yourself with mindfulness.

When you are comfortable, try offering loving kindness to someone who supports you, who has always “been on your side.”  Bring this person to mind, imagine them perhaps across from you, and let these words become your words…

May you be well

May you be happy

May you be safe

May you live in peace

Once your feelings flow easily to a loved one, turn your attention now to someone with whom you have difficulty – it’s best not to start with the most difficult person, but perhaps someone who brings up feelings or irritation or annoyance.  See if you can let these words become your words as you keep this person in awareness…

May you be well

May you be happy

May you be safe

May you live in peace

Notice the sensations and feelings that arise within you.  And see if you can just allow them and let them be.

And now bring to mind the broader community of which you are a part. You might imagine your family, your workmates, your neighbors, or fan out your attention until you include all persons and creatures on the planet.  And include yourself in this offering of loving kindness, as you let these words become your words…

May everyone, everywhere be well

May everyone, everywhere be happy

May everyone, everywhere be safe

May everyone, everywhere live in peace

Notice the sensations and feelings that arise within you. Sit with them for a few moments until you are ready to end the practice. Open your eyes and bring your attention back to the room.

(Adapted from Mindfulness Meditation, CD Series 3, Jon Kabat-Zinn)