Loving-kindness is a practice and technique in which the central object we rest our attention on is the silent repetition of certain phrases. The phrases are a way of offering, gift-giving, and switching our attention. Here are three guided meditations to begin your loving-kindness practice.
3 Loving-Kindness Meditations for Beginners
1) Directing Compassion Toward Ourselves
Most of the time, we’re our own harshest critics. We strive to hide our flaws and mistakes so we can project a perfect image into the world. With this practice, we choose to instead bring compassion to our imperfections. This shift helps us grow more comfortable with the human difficulties we’ve been desperately trying to avoid—a radical shift that also uncovers the opportunity to develop our inner wisdom and equanimity.
Directing Compassion Toward Ourselves—Vinny Ferraro
- Allow your awareness to turn inward. Soften the gaze. Soften the body.
- Let’s set the intention to just meet ourselves, and whatever arises, with warmth and affection. Again, I’ll offer a poem. These are the words of Bob Sharples: “Don’t meditate to fix yourself, to heal yourself, to improve yourself or redeem yourself. Rather do it as an act of love, of deep, warm friendship with yourself. In this way, there is no longer any need for the subtle aggression of self-improvement or the endless guilt of not doing enough. It offers the possibility of an end to the ceaseless round of trying so hard that wraps so many people’s lives in knots. Instead now there’s a meditation as an act of love.”
- Now imagine the person you were holding in compassion last lecture is now turning toward you with their compassionate gaze. First, reconnect with that felt sense of compassion you have for them: that you truly want to see them free from suffering. And let’s reconnect with those phrases that make the most sense to you: I care about your difficulties. May you be held in compassion. May your heart be at peace. That same person you held in mind last lecture is now acknowledging what’s hard for you. That same person is offering you the same tenderness, the same well wishes, that you offered them. They care about your difficulties. May you be held in compassion. May your heart be at peace.
- Allow yourself to take in their compassionate wishes as much as possible. Allow them to touch your heart.
- Now try to direct that same compassion to yourself. I care about my difficulties. May I be held in compassion. May my heart be at peace. You may find that what arises is what gets in the way for each of us. Again, this is not an excuse to judge ourselves or our experience. It’s clear where the love is needed. It needs to be applied to these barriers between us and this life. I care about my difficulties. May I be held in compassion. May my heart be at peace.
- Gently hold whatever it is that’s arising. Take time to get in the habit of planting these seeds of compassion.
2) A Loving-Kindness Meditation for Your Loved Ones
Relationships can be full of complexity and conflict. Sometimes it’s difficult to express our love to those we care about the most. Maybe we find ourselves stuck in hurt or disagreement. Yet when we focus on qualities of non-judgment, nondiscrimination, and honesty, we increase our ability to freely send love to the people we hold dear. In this way, we tap into the love we already have around us and within us.
Loving-Kindness Meditation for Your Loved Ones—Atman Smith
- Let’s move to the edge of our seats where we can be upright, making sure our back, neck and head are aligned. Feet grounded, I now invite you to close your eyes. Leaving them open is OK, too.
- Let’s take a couple deep breaths together to start off. All of the breathing we’ll be doing is in and out through the nose. So, everyone, inhale long, slow and deep through your nose, filling your stomach up like it’s a balloon. And exhale … push all that air out, push it out. Inhale deep again, with a long, slow, deep breath, filling your stomach up with air. And exhale, push all that air all the way out.
- Now just touch in with whatever is a nice, natural breathing pace for yourself. This doesn’t require any effort—just nice and easy. Simply make sure you’re breathing in and out through your nose.
- Let’s imagine now, all the people we love, whether it’s our family or friends. It doesn’t matter if these people are alive or have passed away—love knows no boundaries. It doesn’t matter how far away they may live from you either.
- Keeping in mind all these people you love, send love to them with your breath. Whatever that looks and feels like to you. Visualize and feel that action with every breath: you are sending love to your loved ones with each breath.
- As in life, distractions will arise here, too. But whether it’s a thought or a sound, whatever the distraction, don’t ever beat yourself up. Just acknowledge your distraction and then redirect yourself back to the breath. Once again, we’re sending love to our loved ones with our breath—whatever that looks and feels like to you, see and feel that.
- Once again, using your imagination, see and feel yourself sending love to your loved ones with the breath. No matter how far away these people are from you, or if they’re living or not, love knows no boundaries.
- If a distraction grabs you, don’t beat yourself up. Just acknowledge the distraction and come back to your breath. With the loving-kindness practice, it’s all about extending the time that we can keep our minds focused. And once again, we’re focused on sending love to our loved ones with the breath—that’s all we’re focused on.
- Now let’s slowly bring ourselves away from the breath and back to our bodies. Start off by just wiggling your toes and fingers, rolling your ankles and wrists. Do a neck roll both ways just to stretch your neck out. And if your eyes were closed, now’s the time to slowly blink your eyes open. Let’s come back to our senses.
3) Loving-Kindness Heartscape Meditation
Loving-kindness can support us in softening our approach to painful events and emotions. By working with the intention of sending good wishes to others, we observe the presence of difficult emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them. And through compassion, we realize that our emotions don’t isolate us, but connect us to all other human beings. This guided practice allows us to notice our emotional experience in a way that embodies loving-kindness and compassion, easing our weary hearts.
Loving-Kindness Heartscape Meditation—Jon Kabat-Zinn
Read the practice transcript here.