Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM) is a Buddhist-derived practice that teaches us to cultivate compassion, kindness and warmth toward ourselves and others. This technique can help reduce stress, anxiety, depression, anger, fear, and pain. Based on the principle of metta, which roughly means “positive energy towards others”, this practice is often used in conjunction with other forms of meditation like mindfulness.
This type of meditation is about focusing your attention on one object of concentration, repeating phrases like “May I be happy”. In today’s article, we’ll explain in further detail what loving-kindness meditation is, exploring the origins of the movement, the best ways to practice it, and the scientific evidence backing it up. Later on, we’ll share some great tools to help access the benefits of compassion meditation. But first, let’s define what this meditative method actually entails.
What is Loving-Kindness Meditation?
Loving-Kindness meditation, or sometimes called “Metta” or “Maitrī” meditation, is a proven and well-known meditation practice used to develop our proclivity and ability for kindness. You usually practice this approach by silently repeating a series of mantras to send goodwill, kindness, and warmth to others. There are no expectations or responsibilities in loving-kindness meditation, we don’t do it to achieve an objective or goal rather, we do it to experience life to its fullest and enjoy each experience at the moment. It is a practice that induces and increases the feelings of warmth you have for yourself and others.
Metta or Maitrī is a Sanskrit and Pali word meaning: amity, an active interest in others, benevolence, friendliness, goodwill, and loving-kindness. As a Buddhist meditation practice, Metta is a wonderful complement to other awareness practices. Metta consists of reciting specific words and phrases with a “boundless warm-hearted feeling.” This feeling is not limited to anyone or anything, including family, religion, or social class. We begin with ourselves and gradually extend the wish for happiness to everyone, including ourselves.
It is one form of meditation that allows you to practice forms of meditation through one of the four qualities of love according to Buddhism:
Mudita: Appreciation and joy
Like Mindfulness-based meditation practices, Loving-Kindness meditation is an equally flexible practice that can be performed anywhere, at any time throughout your day, life and experiences. The Buddhist path of loving-kindness practice is not about inducing a superficial sappy sense of goodwill for all, it is a practice that is about exploring the practice and process, rather than fulfilling an obligation. Long-time meditators and practices of loving-kindness and compassion meditation will tell you that it is an efficient way of creating motivation and empathy for yourself in everyday life, as well as a way to improve your relationship with self-disclosure. Once it is a regular practice, the positive effects and benefits, like the decrease of anxiety, fear and negative self-esteem, last a lifetime.
Sharon Salzberg and Loving-Kindness Meditation
Salzberg is a famous author and teacher of Buddhist meditation, as well as the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading awareness of the benefits of meditation to all. In her essay Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness, she describes loving-kindness as a quality of the heat that gives awareness of the connection we all have. Love-Kindness acknowledges that everyone wishes to be happy and that many people struggle with the question of how to attain it; it addresses our shared vulnerability to suffering and change, which elicits compassion and other positive emotions
Further, on from this, Salzberg also teaches that when we incorporate mindfulness fully into our lives, it leads us to experience a greater understanding of loving-kindness by reducing our habitual natures to fall into easy, but painful, reactions like aversion, delusions and reaching in our minds. Her book, Loving-kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness depicts the lessons she has learned from fellow long-time meditators all over the world and the way they enlightened her. Salzberg reminds us, compassion and directing loving-kindness meditation at a difficult person around you can lead to you feeling all the other difficult emotions like anger, or fear, or resentment – and learn to accept it through better emotional processing.
Tara Brach on Loving-Kindness Meditation
Tara Brach, psychologist and meditation teacher at the Insight Meditation Community, Washington USA has created a career from spreading her knowledge of loving-kindness meditation. With her years of experience in meditation, yoga and mindfulness practices as a trainer, her publications about the benefits of living-kindness are used by many well reputable therapists when helping their clients battle depression, trauma, grief and loss. Brach’s book True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart explores her journey to spread awareness around the world that we can tackle stressful daily moments through loving-kindness and compassion meditation.
Science-Backed Reasons to Try Loving-Kindness Meditation
It’s all well and good to tell you the psychological and emotional benefits of the loving-kindness practice, but in order for you to truly understand the benefits of this practice, let’s take a look at some of the ways it is scientifically proven to help our physical health. As we have told you before, loving-kindness and compassion meditation enable us to hone and develop our feelings of goodwill for ourselves and others, kindness and warmth.
Researchers into loving-kindness practices have shown that long-term practices have seen huge benefits. Loving-kindness meditation provides them greater emotional intelligence and subsequent relief from pain and chronic disease.
In a study by psychiatrist Barbara Fredrickson Et Al., where participants participated in a 7-week loving-kindness meditation practice. They reported that they felt an increase in their experiences of emotions like awe, amusement, contentment, gratitude, hope, interest, pride, love and joy. The increase of the experience of these positive emotions was proven then to produce a wider range of internal personal resources in the participant that included a reduction in the symptoms of illness, increased mindfulness and better communication.
Other studies for patients with chronic pain and who underwent a course of loving-kindness meditation reported a demonstrable decrease in anger, pain and psychological distress. According to psychiatrist Makenzie E Tonelli’s study in clinical psychology published in 2014, a brief Loving-Kindness Meditation intervention significantly reduces sufferers’ migraine pain and eases emotional tension that comes with chronic migraines. A pilot trial by psychiatrist David J. Kearney in 2013 shows that a 12-week loving-kindness practice significantly reduces the mental health symptoms of veterans with PTSD.
The Path to Loving-Kindness
Meditators who practice loving-kindness meditation reap long-lasting benefits, including awareness, mental peace, and focus through regular practice. The practice is extremely flexible and straightforward, which makes it accessible to a wide range of settings. Personal – like your everyday mindfulness practice, professional – like your outlook at work and your relationship with your colleagues, and spiritual – like your actual meditation practice.
A growing body of research specifically on Loving-Kindness meditation is also helping social scientists understand the unique benefits that it offers, although the majority of study authors note that more research is required. An article published in 2018 in the Harvard Review of Psychology summarized the evidence for compassion-based interventions and loving-kindness meditation. In their study, the authors concluded that LKM could be helpful in treating chronic pain and borderline personality disorder.
There has been some research that suggests this meditation technique may be useful for the management of afflictive mind states that cause social anxiety, marital conflict, anger, and long-term caregiving stress. In addition, other research suggests that loving kindness meditation can enhance the activation of brain areas that are involved in emotional processing and empathy, leading to a greater feeling of positivity, reducing negativity and a more positive stress response.
Other than the proven studies, you youreslf have probably observed that your mind spends a lot of time focusing on your faults, considering the faults of others, and being quite critical of people in general. Loving-Kindness is a way of off-setting this natural tendency of our minds. Keeping and wishing ourselves and others well is rooted in recognizing that every organism on this earth – person, animal and plant – is just trying to live a happy life, however they choose to do so.
How to Best Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation
The point of loving-kindness meditation is to direct your energy in a benevolent and loving direction to yourself and others. Despite its many benefits, traditional meditation takes practice, as with any technique. People are not used to giving and receiving love at such a level, so it can be difficult and even lead to resistance. Practice of lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity can be used as an antidote to mind states such as ferocious rage. Just naming these qualities of heart explicitly and making their role explicit in our practice may help us to recognize them when they arise spontaneously during mindfulness practice.
Carve out some time from your daily schedule and commit to loving-kindness during those minutes every day. There are no right or wrong ways to practice unconditional love, as long as we are committed to self-appreciation. Even a small break at work would work be great! The key is a consistent commitment to Metta or Loving-Kindness meditation during a particular time of the day through mindful attention.
A Mindowl Loving-Kindness Meditation:
Loving-Kindness practice can be done in many ways. The practice of this form of meditation differs according to Buddhist traditions, but each variation uses the same psychological operation at its core. The most popular method begins with wishing yourself well, before sending a well wish to a loved one and a neutral person. Then moving on to more difficult things like sending a wish of love and wellness to someone you consider an enemy, and then all living things on the planet.
We have devised a meditative activity for you to try for yourself, to see how easy this practice is. Because wishing ourselves well can be difficult for some of us, we will start today’s practice by asking you to wish someone you love well.
Start by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths.
Let’s begin with someone you love and deeply respect.
Bring this person to mind. Visualise them as clearly as you can. Think of their face, their hands, how they stand.
See if you can slowly repeat some of the traditional phrases used in this practice. If not, you can make up your own phrases.
Slowly repeat the following phrases, but feel free to make up phrases that work for you and your practice.
Say them in silence, to yourself and in complete awareness:
- May you be safe.
- May you be healthy.
- May you be happy.
- May you live with ease in the world.
Try to connect with the emotional experiences of the phrases in your mind as you repeat them slowly. Remember that this is someone you truly want to see happy.
Take a moment to really feel that desire for them to be happy.
When the image of this person fades, gently bring them to your mind again and consciously wish them well.
Slowly repeat in your mind the same phrases in complete awareness:
- May you be safe.
- May you be healthy.
- May you be happy.
- May you live with ease in the world.
Whenever you become distracted, bring your focus back to your wish for this person to be happy by bringing the image of them to the front of your mind.
Visualize this person radiant with joy, as if they are experiencing the best day of their lives.
Try putting a smile on your face when you think of this special person — even a fake smile will work for now. Move your lips gently and smile.
As you do that, remember that you also want to be happy. Just like this person, you too want to be healthy, happy, and safe.
Now begin to visualise yourself and silently repeat in complete awareness:
- May I be safe.
- May I be healthy.
- May I be happy.
- May I live with ease in the world.
Okay, get ready to open your eyes.
After each meditation session, it is vital to spare a few minutes for recapitulating the experience. You can maintain a journal for recording how you felt before, after, and during the meditation session. Sharing the feelings helps in enhancing awareness about how the meditation helped you and provides enthusiasm to continue practising.
Ask yourself these questions as you go forward in your practice:
- What was your experience like?
- Was it easier for you to wish someone else well or to wish yourself well?
- What has changed since you started practising?
I hope you got a sense of how this practice can affect your emotions, bring you greater peace in your everyday life. LKM is a meditation practice that involves imagining or actually experiencing an emotional state as an object of attention and mindful awareness.
Don’t worry if it all seems a bit unnatural for now. Over time, it will become more normal to sustain this moment-to-moment awareness. We are training ourselves to think in a new way. Give it some time, as you make your practice a habit you will feel the benefits of lessened intense emotions like rage and misery. As the hours of meditation practice build when you practice at a regular time of day, that moment of awareness will encourage positive relations with those around you and the wide world.
Loving-Kindness Phrases for You
Here are some loving-kindness and compassion phrases to go with your meditation session, if you are having trouble thinking of new ones:
1. May I be strong.
2. May I have the power to accept and forgive.
3. May I live and die in peace.
4. May I be safe.
5. May I love and appreciate others boundlessly.
6. May I achieve what I want and deserve in life.
7. May I have the power to accept my anger and sadness.
8. May I be healthy and happy always.
9. May you be strong.
10. May you have the power to accept and forgive.
11. May you live and die in peace.
12. May you be safe.
13. May you love and appreciate others boundlessly.
14. May you achieve what you want and deserve in life.
15. May you have the power to accept your anger and sadness.
16. May you be healthy and happy always.
Frequently Asked Questions About Loving-Kindness Meditation
We thought it would be a good idea to go over some frequently asked questions before we round off the article. These questions should answer all your remaining questions about Loving-Kindness meditation:
Q. How do I feel Metta?
A. To feel “metta” when we are practising metta or loving-kindness meditation, we must understand what we are cultivating in this practice. In the Sanskrit phrase “Metta Bhavana”, metta means “kindness” and Bhavana means “developing”. In order to properly practise metta Bhavana, you must get to the stage where you are able to learn to be kinder and more loving to not only others but yourself as well. It begins with cultivating self-kindness. We can be kinder to ourselves if we understand our weaknesses, appreciate our strengths, forgive our mistakes, and support ourselves during difficult times.
Q. What is the Metta Prayer?
A. As we saw before, we can practice our metta, or loving-kindness meditation by using a meditation script that includes loving-kindness phrases. You can also use these short phrases at work, throughout the day on your errands, or as you go to bed, as a mindful way to practice on the go. But, there is also a way to use Buddhist Metta Prayers within your meditation and practice to do the same, if you would like to.
Try some of these out for yourself, and see if they work for you:
- My heart fills with loving-kindness. I love myself. May I be content and happy. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful. May I be free.
- May all beings in my vicinity be content and happy. May they be healthy. May they be peaceful. May they be free.
- May my parents be content and happy. May they be healthy. May they be peaceful. May they be free.
- May all my friends be content and happy. May they be healthy. May they be peaceful. May they be free.
- May all my enemies be content and happy. May they be healthy. May they be peaceful. May they be free
- .May all beings in the Universe be content and happy. May they be healthy. May they be peaceful. May they be free.
- If I have hurt anyone, knowingly or unknowingly in thought, word or deed, I ask for their forgiveness.
- If anyone has hurt me, knowingly or unknowingly in thought, word or deed, I extend my forgiveness.
Q. What are Zen Meditation Techniques?
A. Zen meditation, or Zazen literally meaning “seated meditation”, is a meditation technique rooted in Buddhist positive psychology. Zen practice involves regulating attention by “thinking about not thinking”.
There are 5 formally recognsed Buddhist Zen meditation techniques:
- Bompu Zen – Bompu, meaning “ordinary”, zen is a type of meditation suitable to all kinds of peope regardless of circumstance or setting and most importantly, it doesn’t have any overarching spiritual or philosophical dogma that you must follow. When practicing Bompu Zen, the aim is to concentrate, regulate your mind and calm it. Martial arts, Zen arts and all Western meditation are a form of Bompu Zen.
- Gedo Zen – Gedu, meaning “outside way”, is referring to types of meditation that fall outsie of the Buddhist traditions. This may include practicces like Hindu Yoga, Confucian sitting practices, and Christian contemplation based meditation practices.
- Shojo Zen – Shojo, meaning “small vehicle”, is the teaching of transitioning from illusion to enlightenment. The small vehicle is referring to only you, your responsible for your peace of mind. This form of Zen meditation allows you to examine the cause of any suffering and confusion. Shojo Zen believes that some states of mind are better than others and practitioners should strive to achieve equanimity. Through awareness, you learn that you are part of a whole and not separate from anything.
- Daijo Zen – Daijo Zen, also known as the “great practice” is the zen teaching taught by Buddha, that shows you how to find your true nature. Daijo Zen teaches you to break free from the illusions of the world to experience an absolute, indivisible reality. It focuses on the nature of the self and is a practice of enlightenment. Daijo Zen practice allows you to awaken and actualize your true nature through a spiritual path. The more you practice this technique, the more you’ll want to practice it and feel the need to do so. You affect everyone else, and they affect you.
- Saijojo Zen – This zen practice is known as the great practice as the goal is not achieving anything. Proper practice of Saijojojo brings you back to the essence of your true nature. You refrain from wanting, grasping, or trying to achieve something. Its focus is practicing the practice. You’re fully awakened to your pure, true nature with this practice.
Q. What Happens When I do an Act of loving-kindness to Friends and Others?
A. The “science of kindness” refers to the positive effects and benefits of loving-kindness. Oxytocin has been the subject of most research examining why kindness makes us feel better. Occupying a crucial role in the formation of relationships and the formation of trust, oxytocin is sometimes referred to as “the love hormone.” Research suggests that acts of kindness can raise our love hormone levels, shifts in people’s mental states and release more oxytocin throughout the day.
Q. What’s Another Word for Loving-Kindness?
A. Another word for loving-kindness meditating is, of course, Metta meditation as we looked at earlier on in this article! Other words for loving-kindness are;
- Goodness of heart
- Kindness of heart
Q. Is Loving-Kindness the Same as Mercy?
A. The difference between mercy and loving-kindness as terms used in meditation is that mercy is uncountable and forgiving, and loving-kindness is kindness or goodwill that stems from love or grows from love.
So it is clear to see, loving-kindness meditation can create wonderfully positive daily experiences for you. The Buddhist tradition and Hindu practices like Metta and loving-kindness meditation can be used anywhere, anytime to help you reach a state of peace and equanimity even for a moment in your everyday life. The more you practice this nuanced approach, the better it will feel and the easier it will be to feel positive emotions over time.
The practice of directing warm-heartedness, goodwill, kindness and care to yourself, those around you and the whole world is important. Not only will it stop the negative symptoms of painful emotions like rage, sadness and spite. And, it will alleviate the painful illness symptoms of chronic illness, chronic depression and anxiety. It has been found that with this practice you can balance mental happiness and physical happiness.
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MindOwl Founder – My own struggles in life have led me to this path of understanding the human condition. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before completing a master’s degree in psychology at Regent’s University London. I then completed a postgraduate diploma in philosophical counselling before being trained in ACT (Acceptance and commitment therapy).
I’ve spent the last eight years studying the encounter of meditative practices with modern psychology.