Lovingkindness Meditation

Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay

from Activity 37 of Being You: A Girl's Guide to Mindfulness

There are compassion-based practices in every religious tradition. However, the phrasing of lovingkindness meditation in mindfulness classes tends to be adapted from Buddhist teachings on metta. This is a Pali word that can be translated as lovingkindness, benevolence, or friendliness. (Pali is a classical language from India, related to Sanskrit.)

According to Dr. Kristin Neff and Dr. Christopher Germer, well-known experts on self-compassion, you don’t have to use someone else’s phrasing of lovingkindness meditation if it doesn’t feel natural to you. Instead, you can use three or four phrases that express what you’d like to focus on. For example, you could say: “May I begin to be kind to myself, May I know that I belong, May I live in peace.” Then you can send those same wishes to the other people on your list.

If you’re Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, you might prefer to think of God blessing you and all the people on your list. My sister, Rev. Deborah Sunoo (a.k.a. Pastor Deb), likes to use phrases like “The Lord bless you and keep you,” or “May the peace of Christ be with you.”

You may also want to do a mini lovingkindness practice throughout the day. That’s what I do whenever I catch myself feeling angry or unloving toward someone, or when I see a situation where someone is suffering. 

Often, I’ll use the phrase “I wish you peace” to silently send good wishes to myself and to the other person. Recently I’ve started using just one word: “peace,” or “love,” or even “hug!” as a very quick reminder to show myself or someone else compassion and kindness in a difficult moment.

Directions for Lovingkindness Meditation

Set aside a few minutes to send good wishes to yourself and other people. You might want to start with a minute or two of your favorite mindful breathing practice. Choose your preferred phrasing: Buddhist, secular, faith-based, “I wish you peace,” or whatever phrasing feels natural to you and helps you feel a sense of kindness or friendliness. 

It’s OK if you don’t feel warm and fuzzy, especially when you’re sending good wishes toward someone you don’t like or you feel angry toward. The purpose is to practice being compassionate toward other people, not to force yourself to feel a particular way.
  • Start by focusing on yourself. Silently repeat the phrases you’ve chosen. 
  • Next, send good wishes to a person you feel positively toward, perhaps a friend or a member of your family. 
  • After that, send good wishes to a person you feel neutral toward, perhaps a class- mate or acquaintance. 
  • Now do your best to send good wishes to a person you feel annoyed with or it’s hard to share lovingkindness with. 
  • Finally, send good wishes to a large group of people, and maybe even to the whole world. 

As with other types of meditation, you may find it easier to listen to a recording rather than reading and remembering the instructions. I recommend the guided meditations by my colleague Dr. Dzung Vo at mindfulnessforteens.com

Adapted from Being You: A Girl's Guide to Mindfulness, by Catharine Hannay. 
© Prufrock Press, 2019. Used with permission. www.prufrock.com

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