Begin anew with Loving-Kindness

A brand new year! To begin anew again! This year my focus will be on the practice of Loving-Kindness.  Let us cultivate good will! Let us wish one another, including ourselves, what we most desire; happiness, peace, good health and success.  We know that it is good to wish well and to love others, but we are often reluctant to receive or give ourselves the same good wishes and love. So this year, we may include ourselves in our circle of good will and compassion so that we may thrive.

In wishing ourselves and others well, we can reconnect with our innate desire to be happy, loved and safe.  It is a way to ease our struggles with hope, to open our mind and soften our heart as well as to promote self-compassion for greater inner strength.  When we are stressed, angry, sad or in pain, we can withdraw and isolate ourselves from others, which increases our suffering. The practice of loving-kindness promotes feelings of connections and in so doing alleviates our distress, giving us the strength to deal with our challenges.

What is loving-kindness?
Loving-Kindness meditation focuses on ways to develop feelings of goodwill, kindness and warmth towards others and ourselves (Salzberg, 1995).  It eases the pressures, promotes acceptance, facilitates understanding and increases resilience. It opens our mind to make way for more harmony in our relationships with ourselves and with others.  It is a tool to access our good intentions and our capacity to elicit positive feelings at will.  It is a practice that was taught by Buddha as an antidote to fear and loneliness promoting mental habits of altruistic love for our self and others.

Compassion, kindness and empathy are hardwired in our brain but are not necessarily cultivated. Being angry, to feel resentment, to harbor grudge are normal reactions to situations where we have been treated unfairly and where we have been hurt or let down. But we can also choose to keep our mind peaceful, so that instead of ruminating unnecessarily over the unfairness of the situation, we learn from it, keep ourselves safe and then let it go with the practice of loving kindness.
Loving-kindness can be practised in a formal meditation on its own or at the end of other practices such as breath awareness or body scan. It can also be practised in an informal way during our daily activities.  

Benefits of Loving-Kindness
Extensive research shows that loving kindness meditation has a wide range of benefits starting from promoting well-being and emotional intelligence, to alleviating pain and illnesses. The demonstrated benefits so far are the following:
-facilitate weight loss by helping us to eat healthy(Adams and Leary, 2007)
-promote stress resilience (Law, 2011)
-reduce the effect of ageing and protect DNA-telomere (Hoge et al 2013)
-reduce self-criticism(Shahar et al 2014)
-increase positive emotions and decrease negative emotions( Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008)
-increase positive feelings towards others(Kang, Gray & Dovido, 2014)
-promote feelings of social connections (Kok et al 2013)
-increases empathy (Klimecki, Leiberg, Lamm and Singer 2013)
-promote helping behaviours (Leiberg, Klimecki and Singer 2011)
-increasing compassion and self-compassion  (Boellinghaus, Jones & Hutton, 2012)
-decrease migraines (Tonelli et al 2014)
-decrease chronic pain (Carson et al., 2005)
-activates empathy and assist in emotional control (Hutcherson, Seppala & Gross, 2014; Hoffmann, Grossman & Hinton, 2011)
-increases grey matter volume in areas of the brain related to emotion regulation (Leung et al 2013; Lutz et al 2008; Lee et al 2012),
-decreases in PTSD symptoms (Kearney et al 2013)
-decreases Schizophrenia-Spectrum Disorders in a pilot study by Johnson et al. (2011).
-benefits are maintained over time with continued practices and the length of the practice is associated with more benefits  (Cohn et al 2011)

Loving kindness can be defined as an intention, attitude, feeling or action. It is a way of just being there, present, patient, tolerant, strong, and wishing well with compassion and kindness. It is about giving and receiving from the heart: hoping, praying for our self and others for good health, for love, for happiness, for peace and whatever else you desire or is relevant for the other person. It is also about becoming conscious and intentional in what we wish for ourselves and other people; that is we wish for others what we wish for ourselves. In times of conflict instead of staying with one perspective of being right, we may wish instead the following:

“May we find a way to resolve this conflict”,

“May we have more understanding of each other”,

“May we accept each others' difference with more tolerance”,

“May we create a win-win situation”, “May we each be more peaceful”,

“May we find a way to live in harmony”.

My personal journey
I am most grateful for the practice of loving-kindness in my meditation and also in my daily activities because it has opened my mind and softened my heart. Like Sharon Salzburg, I have noticed the results of my practices where my intention to wish myself and others well planted the seeds of kindness and love in my heart and seemed to open others.  Gradually, slowly I became more empathic and compassionate to myself and others; wishing the alleviation of the suffering but also gently becoming stronger and more loving.  Loving-kindness led to self-transformation; promoting inner joy, peace, feeling safe and balanced, resilient, more connected, helping to be more present and to engage with others more easily.

Loving-Kindness Meditation
You can start first, by visualizing someone that you love dearly and as you do so taking a moment to experience the positive feelings that you have for them. Then you can connect with your intention to send some loving-kindness wishes in the form of:

“May you be healthy”,

“May you be safe,

“May you be peaceful”,

“May you be happy” or whatever you would like to wish them.

If they are going through a very difficult time, you can wish for their suffering to be alleviated:

“May your struggle ease”,

"May you have courage", 

“May you find joy”,

"May you succeed". 

You begin by feeling the love you have for this person and then connecting with your intention and desire for this person to be safe, healthy, at ease and happy. Instead of a person, you may want to choose a pet, a tree, flower or bird. As you repeat the phrases, you may or may not feel loving-kindness, but what is most important is to focus on your good intention to send good will. With your good intention, you are planting the seeds for the feelings of loving-kindness to grown in your heart.

Secondly, you set your intention to wish yourself loving-kindness repeating phrases such as

May I be healthy”,

"May I be safe”,

"May I be peaceful”,

"May I be happy”,

"May my struggle ease", or whatever is meaningful to you. 

For some, this may be initially more difficult. So you may include your loved one, saying:

“May we be healthy”,

May we be safe”,

"May we be peaceful”,

"May we be happy” or whatever is relevant.  

You may repeat this, sending loving-kindness wishes to other people, such as strangers, acquaintances as well as people that you find difficult or challenging in your life. This has the function of cultivating more positive feelings and reduce the feeling of separation and loneliness. To end your practice, you may extend loving-kindness wishes to groups of people and then to all beings.The aim is to cultivate love and kindness for ourselves and others, to reduce the inner critic, to be more accepting, patient, tolerant and compassionate. As you continue this practice, you may change the loving-kindness phrases, making them more specific to various situations and needs. For instance, when you are more critical of yourself, you may begin to focus more on loving acceptance saying:

“May I accept myself”,

“May I value myself” or

"May I see myself as good enough".

Informal Practices
Loving-kindness wishes can also be expressed anytime during the day or night; while driving, waiting somewhere when thinking of someone or when finding yourself emotionally struggling, but also as you lie down to go to sleep or when waking up in the middle of the night or early in the morning, you can begin wishing yourself and others well. Remember as you wish well for others to also, always include yourself in your good wishes: wishing for yourself what you wish for others and vice versa.

You may want to journal your good wishes for yourself and others. You could also write the wishes on small notes and put them in a special jar over the next 12 months. Begin the year focusing on loving kindness practices and watch how your wishes, intentions and feelings of loving-kindness evolve over the year and the impact that it has on you as well as on others and your relationships.

May you open to loving kindness!

May you flourish!

If you would like to read more on Loving-Kindness I would recommend the following book:

Loving-Kindness; The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, by Sharon Salzberg, 1995

There are also many free audio tracks on the net on Loving-Kindness also called Metta Meditation

I would love to know what you think and welcome your comments on the section below.

Loving Kindness for a loved one (16min)

This is a Loving Kindness meditation to begin to wish our loved one well and wish well to ourselves.