Loving kindness meditation is an ancient practice that originates from the Buddhist tradition. It is a method of developing compassion. While meditating, the practitioner recites a series of mantras and envisions an image that embodies the concept being internalized. The indigenous name of this practice is known as metta bhavana, which in the Pali language means to develop or cultivate compassion.
The Process of Loving Kindness Meditation
Loving kindness meditation makes use of words, images and feelings to evoke a sense of love or kindness toward oneself and other people. The practice takes place in a peaceful, quiet environment free from interruption. It typically lasts for about fifteen to twenty minutes, although beginners can have shorter sessions. Generally, there are four stages to this meditative practice, which include:
- Feeling Metta (Love) For Oneself
Loving kindness meditation begins with the self because a person with self-loathing or negative feelings is incapable of truly experiencing and, let alone, expressing compassion. The first stage begins with focusing on emotions such as peace, calm and tranquility, and then allowing them to morph into a feeling of love within the heart. During this phase, one repeatedly recites phrases like “May I be well in body and mind”, “may I be filled with loving kindness”, or “may I be happy”.
- Feeling Compassion For A Loved One Or Friend
In the second stage, you bring to mind a loved one or close friend and think about their good traits. The previous mantra is recited again, only this time it is directed at your friend by saying, “may they be well”, “may they be happy”… and so on.
- Think Of Someone Neutral With Compassion
Next phase involves thinking positively of a neutral person who you neither love nor dislike while reciting the same mantra in dedication to that person.
- Meditate About An Enemy With Compassion
In the final stage, you have to reflect on the humanity of a person you don’t like such as an enemy and envision him/her in positive light. Eventually, loving kindness meditation ends with extending one’s positive feelings to all living things. This involves making an effort to evoke loving kindness toward everyone in a neighborhood, town, state or even the entire world.
When meditating on feelings of compassion on other people, you can imagine a light shining from your heart to theirs.
How Loving Kindness Meditation Can Benefit Your Life
Metta bhavana meditation has been associated with a number of benefits. For one, it is believed to increase positive emotions according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Researchers reported that individuals who practiced loving kindness meditation over a seven-week clinical trial had an increase in experiences of positive emotions. In another study, researchers found that women who practiced loving kindness meditation had a longer telomere length (a biological marker for aging) vis-à-vis other age-matched controls.
Many other studies and psychology experts suggest that loving kindness meditation can increase compassion, strengthen a capacity for empathy, reduce post-traumatic stress disorder, and decrease migraines.
To experience these benefits, all you have to do is practice loving kindness meditation on a regular basis. A single short session lasting just 10 minutes a day can jump-start a ripple effect that leads to increased feelings of positivity and social connection towards others.