What is Loving-Kindness Meditation?
In complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) meditation is considered as one of the best mind-body practices for attaining wholesome health and happiness.
With roots embedded in ancient traditions, meditation is now universally accepted as a standard self-healing and recuperative measure across cultures.
Meditation techniques, however primitive in terms of their origin, are strangely appropriate and tailor-made for our current life that is busy and stressful. There are different schools of meditation and various types of practices accessible to us today, including:
- Spiritual Meditation – Which incorporates components of silence, prayers, and self-control, and aims to build a deeper connection to the Divine.
- Mindfulness Meditation – Which aims to expand happiness by enhancing self-knowledge and understanding.
- Movement Meditation – Which is a meditation involving physical movements such as walking, yoga, etc..
- Focused Meditation – Where we commit to paying undivided attention to an object or an imaginary light while meditating and learn how to calm the mind amidst the daily multitasking life.
- Visualization Meditation – Similar to guided imagery techniques, this form of meditation allows us to imagine a mind-soothing picture, for example, the open sky, or a serene river stream, and try to let our pent up emotions and negative thoughts wash away in the picturesque landscape.
- Chanting Meditation – Which includes repeating ‘Mantras’ or words linked to happiness, gratitude, self-love, compassion, and inner peace. Regular chanting of these phrases lets in positive energy into our lives and help us truly experience wellness at the very core.
In this article, we will talk about the Loving-Kindness Meditation, which is a practice tied in with self-love, empathy, understanding, and kindness. Besides discussing what it is and how it works, we will also find some great resources and scripts to get started with this unique and self-enhancing meditative endeavor.
How to Practice Loving Kindness Meditation
Loving kindness meditation (LKM) is a popular self-care technique that can be used to boost well-being and reduce stress.1 Those who regularly practice loving kindness meditation are able to increase their capacity for forgiveness, connection to others, self-acceptance, and more. This technique is not easy as you are asking yourself to send kindness your way or to others. It often takes practice to allow yourself to receive your own love or to send it.
Benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation
During loving kindness meditation, you focus benevolent and loving energy toward yourself and others. There are many well-documented benefits of traditional meditation, but as with other techniques, this form of meditation takes practice. It can be difficult and sometimes leads to resistance since the average person is not used to this level of giving and receiving love. Emerging research specifically on LKM is also helping social scientists to understand the unique benefits that it provides, although most study authors note that more research is needed.
For example, a study published in the 2018 July/August issue of the Harvard Review of Psychology provided an overview of scientific evidence related to loving-kindness meditation and other compassion-based interventions.2 Study authors concluded that LKM may be beneficial in the treatment of chronic pain and borderline personality disorder but further evidence is needed to confirm these promising effects.
Some published studies have noted that this meditation technique may be useful in the management of social anxiety, marital conflict, anger, and coping with the strains of long-term care giving.1 And other research has suggested that loving kindness meditation can enhance the activation of brain areas that are involved in emotional processing and empathy to boost a sense of positivity and reduce negativity.
While more research is needed to confirm the full extent of LKM benefits, there are no risks or costs associated with the practice. So if you choose to give this meditative practice a try, you’ve got nothing to lose except for a few quiet moments in your day.
How to Practice Loving Kindness Meditation
There are different ways to practice this form of meditation, each based on different Buddhist traditions, but each variation uses the same core psychological operation. During your meditation, you generate kind intentions toward certain targets including yourself and others.
The following is a simple and effective loving kindness meditation technique to try.
- Carve out some quiet time for yourself (even a few minutes will work) and sit comfortably. Close your eyes, relax your muscles, and take a few deep breaths.
- Imagine yourself experiencing complete physical and emotional wellness and inner peace. Imagine feeling perfect love for yourself, thanking yourself for all that you are, knowing that you are just right—just as you are. Focus on this feeling of inner peace, and imagine that you are breathing out tension and breathing in feelings of love.
- Repeat three or four positive, reassuring phrases to yourself. These messages are examples, but you can also create your own:
- May I be happy
- May I be safe
- May I be healthy, peaceful, and strong
- May I give and receive appreciation today
- Bask in feelings of warmth and self-compassion for a few moments. If your attention drifts, gently redirect it back to these feelings of loving kindness. Let these feelings envelop you.
- You can choose to either stay with this focus for the duration of your meditation or begin to shift your focus to loved ones in your life. Begin with someone who you are very close to, such as a spouse, a child, a parent, or a best friend. Feel your gratitude and love for them. Stay with that feeling. You may want to repeat the following phrases or similar ones that bring about feelings of loving kindness within you:
- May you be happy
- May you be safe
- May you be healthy, peaceful, and strong
- May you give and receive appreciation today
- Once you’ve held these feelings toward that person, bring other important people from your life into your awareness, one by one, and envision them with perfect wellness and inner peace. Then branch out to other friends, family members, neighbors, and acquaintances. You may even want to include groups of people around the world. Extend feelings of loving kindness to people around the globe and focus on a feeling of connection and compassion. You may even want to include those with whom you are in conflict to help reach a place of forgiveness or greater peace.
- When you feel that your meditation is complete, open your eyes. Remember that you can revisit the wonderful feelings you generated throughout the day. Internalize how loving kindness meditation feels, and return to those feelings by shifting your focus and taking a few deep breaths.
Tips for a More Effective LKM Practice
When you first begin your loving kindness practice, use yourself as the sole subject during meditation. As you get more comfortable with the imagery and loving phrases, begin to add the visualization of others into your practice. Finally, direct loving kindness meditation toward difficult people in your life. This last arm of LKM boosts feelings of forgiveness and helps you to let go of rumination for an increased sense of inner peace.1
As you develop a regular practice of meditation, you may want to set a timer with a gentle alarm if you’re concerned about spending too much time in focus.
Lastly, remember that this meditation can be practiced in many different ways. The method outlined above is a sample of how you might choose to begin. You may come up with your own loving kindness meditation technique that works better for you. As long as you focus your attention in a way that promotes feelings of loving kindness, you can expect to gain benefits from the practice.
This Loving-Kindness Meditation is a Radical Act of Love
As the pace of our lives continues to accelerate, driven by a host of forces seemingly beyond our control, more and more of us are finding ourselves drawn to engage in meditation, in this radical act of being. We are moving in the direction of meditative awareness for many reasons, not the least of which may be to maintain our individual and collective sanity, or recover our perspective and sense of meaning, or simply to deal with the outrageous stress and insecurity of this age.
By stopping and intentionally falling awake to how things are in this moment, purposefully, without succumbing to our own reactions and judgments, and by working wisely with such occurrences with a healthy dose of self-compassion when we do succumb, and by our willingness to take up residency for a time in the present moment in spite of all our plans and activities aimed at getting somewhere else, completing a project or pursuing desired objects or goals, we discover that such an act is both immensely, discouragingly difficult and yet utterly simple, profound, hugely possible after all, and restorative of mind and body, soul and spirit right in that moment. It is indeed a radical act of love just to sit down and be quiet for a time by yourself.
The effect of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions: a meta-analytic review
While it has been suggested that loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is an effective practice for promoting positive emotions, the empirical evidence in the literature remains unclear. Here, we provide a systematic review of 24 empirical studies (N = 1759) on LKM with self-reported positive emotions. The effect of LKM on positive emotions was estimated with meta-analysis, and the influence of variations across LKM interventions was further explored with subgroup analysis and meta-regression. The meta-analysis showed that (1) medium effect sizes for LKM interventions on daily positive emotions in both wait-list controlled RCTs and non-RCT studies; and (2) small to large effect sizes for the on-going practice of LKM on immediate positive emotions across different comparisons. Further analysis showed that (1) interventions focused on loving-kindness had medium effect size, but interventions focused on compassion showed small effect sizes; (2) the length of interventions and the time spent on meditation did not influence the effect sizes, but the studies without didactic components in interventions had small effect sizes. A few individual studies reported that the nature of positive emotions and individual differences also influenced the results. In sum, LKM practice and interventions are effective in enhancing positive emotions, but more studies are needed to identify the active components of the interventions, to compare different psychological operations, and to explore the applicability in clinical populations.