A way back to your Heart

I often practice a time of silence and reflection especially when my emotions and hormones take the better of me. Knowing how it affects my mood and communication (verbal & nonverbal) with others, creating toxic feelings with the people I deal with and knowing how detrimental it is for me, I quickly find a space to sit in silence and consciously radiate loving kindness to myself first then to the other and every other being. This helps me diffuse the tension I feel inside thus diffusing the tension with the other, regulate my breath and re-balance my hormones.  Practising loving kindness brings about a sense of deep gratitude and selflessness in me thus making it easy for me to go about enjoying what I do and connecting with the people I work with and live with with love and openness. This practice has definitely toned my sense of arrogance and self righteousness. Appreciating and accepting myself and everything around me is a blessing.

I enjoy and apply the practices highlighted in this article regularly. I hope you will too. May you be well and happy 🙂

Loving Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness Meditation is taught by the Siddhattha Gautama to develop a mental habit of selflessness or altruistic love. In the Dhammapada can be found the saying: “Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness, and dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on love.”

This meditation is a technique of concentration of the mind that enhances feelings of calm, unconditional love, equanimity, compassion and joy.  It provides the essential balance to support insight meditation practice.

To put it into its context, Loving-kindness is the first of a series of meditations that produce four qualities of love:

Friendliness (metta),

Compassion (karuna),

Appreciative Joy (mudita)

Equanimity (upekkha)

The quality of ‘friendliness’ is expressed as warmth that reaches out and embraces others. When loving-kindness practice matures it naturally overflows into compassion, as one empathises with others. The positive expression of empathy is an appreciation of the other’s good qualities or good fortune, or appreciative joy, rather than feelings of jealousy towards them. This series of meditations comes to maturity as ‘on-looking equanimity’. This ‘engaged equanimity’ must be cultivated within the context of this series of meditations, or there is a risk of it manifesting as its near enemy, indifference or aloofness. So, ultimately you remain kindly disposed and caring toward everybody with an equal spread of loving feelings and acceptance in all situations and relationships.

Stillness

The technique

The practice always begins with developing a loving acceptance of Yourself.

If resistance is experienced then it indicates that feelings of unworthiness are present. This means there is work to be done, as the practice itself is designed to overcome any feelings of self-doubt or negativity. Then you are ready to systematically develop loving-kindness towards others.

Four Types of People to develop loving-kindness towards:

  • a respected, beloved person – such as a spiritual teacher;
  • a dearly beloved – which could be a close family member or friend;
  • a neutral person – somebody you know, but have no special feelings towards, e.g.: a person who serves you in a shop;
  • a hostile person – someone you are currently having difficulty with.

Starting with yourself, then systematically sending loving-kindness from person to person in the above order will have the effect of breaking down the barriers between the four types of relationships and yourself. This will have the effect of breaking down the divisions within your own mind, the source of much of the conflict we experience. Just a word of caution if you are practicing intensively. It is best if you choose a member of the same sex or, if you have a sexual bias to your own sex, a person of the opposite sex. This is because of the risk that the near enemy of loving-kindness, lust, can be aroused. Try different people to practice on, as some people do not easily fit into the above categories, but do try to keep to the prescribed order.

Joy

Ways of arousing feelings of loving-kindness:

  1. Visualisation – Bring up a mental picture. See yourself or the person the feeling is directed at smiling back at you or just being joyous.
  2. By reflection – Reflect on the positive qualities of a person and the acts of kindness they have done. A happy memory of the relationship will help.

To yourself, making an affirmation, a positive statement about yourself, using your own words.

  1. Auditory – This is the simplest way but probably the most effective. Repeat the phrase to each relationship above.

“May I/____ be well, happy, peaceful and prosperous.

May no harm come to me/ ___ .

May I/___ always meet with success.

May I/___ have the patience, courage, wisdom, understanding and determination to meet and overcome inevitable challenges in my life”

The visualisations, reflections and the repetition of the phrase are devices to help you arouse positive feelings of loving-kindness. You can use all of them or one that works best for you. When the positive feeling arise, switch from the devices to the feeling, as it is the feeling that is the primary focus. Keep the mind fixed on the feeling, if it strays bring it back to the device, or if the feelings weaken or are lost then return to the device, i.e. use the visualisation to bring back or strengthen the feeling.

The second stage is Directional Pervasion where you systematically project the aroused feeling of loving-kindness to all points of the compass: north, south, east and west, up and down, and all around. This directional pervasion will be enhanced by bringing to mind loving friends and like-minded communities you know in the cities, towns and countries around the world.

Non-specific Pervasion tends to spontaneously happen as the practice matures. It is not discriminating. It has no specific object and involves just naturally radiating feelings of universal love. When it arises the practice has then come to maturity in that it has changed particular, preferential love, which is an attached love, to an all-embracing unconditional love!

Loving-kindness is a heart meditation and should not to be seen as just a formal sitting practice removed from everyday life. So take your good vibes outside into the streets, at home, at work and into your relationships. Applying the practice to daily life is a matter of directing a friendly attitude and having openness toward everybody you relate to, without discrimination.

For the scientific evidence that supports this meditation technique, I recommend that you read Dr. Seppälä’s full article. If these reasons intrigue you, then you may also enjoy the author’s TEDx talk—a recording of the loving-kindness meditation she uses.

brain

Scientific Studies Reveal Benefits of Mindfulness Practice

  • Increases Positive Emotions & Decreases Negative Emotions
  • Increases vagal tone, which increases positive emotions & feelings of social connection
  • Decreases migraines
  • Decreases chronic pain
  • Decreases PTSD
  • Activates empathy & emotional processing in the brain
  • Increases gray matter volume
  • Increases telomere length—a biological marker of aging

The science is increasingly clear on the benefits of mindfulness meditation.

There are as many different ways of doing this technique as there are levels of intensity in the practice. This introduction is intended to help you familiarize yourself with the basic technique.

May your own practice bring you peace, healing, and joy

 

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