How To Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation
Toward the end of grad school, I got a big case of the “eff-its.” I had been chipping away at my degree for four years, and was tired of jumping through hoops. When I finally got to the end of my coursework, I decided to take my last elective as an easy A and chance to just chill out before moving to Minnesota for my pre-doctoral internship training. I signed up for Mindfulness Meditation, thinking I’d breeze through.
As fate would have it, I learned a TON in that “slacker class.” One of the requirements was to meditate daily. I was never into meditating, as someone who struggles to stay quiet and still for more than thirty seconds. I really didn’t think it through because here I was, being graded on my ability to be quiet and still. Frankly, I hated it, but being the sucker for good grades that I was, I followed the protocol.
I learned a walking meditation, an eating meditation, and all sorts of other meditations. After awhile, something clicked. I didn’t hate it anymore. I even grew to crave the quiet and stillness.
At the end of that term, I moved to Minneapolis, where I didn’t know a soul. I said goodbye to many of my closest friends, some of whom would also be moving away for good. I terminated with my entire caseload of therapy clients. It was a lot of goodbyes all at once.
During my many hours of required meditation that summer, I found my mind wandering to thoughts about these goodbyes. I felt fear arise, as someone who has never been great at staying in touch. I felt sadness at the thought of losing these connections, yet I was overwhelmed by the prospect of juggling phone calls and e-mails and trying to maintain the closeness I had cultivated in my life during graduate school.
My saving grace was a practice called Loving-Kindness Meditation. This practice allows us to send energy and love to ourselves and other people, simply by focusing our awareness.
Through loving-kindness meditation, I learned that I didn’t have to be geographically close to someone to FEEL close to them. I learned that I could even feel close to someone who isn’t alive any longer.
Throughout my time away, I thought frequently of the people I missed. While I made a concerted effort to stay in touch with loved ones, I also found peace and comfort in sending them loving-kindness on a regular basis.
One of the challenging aspects of my job is that I often don’t know what happens to my clients once we part ways. To this day, I regularly pause to reflect on my past clients and send them loving-kindness, wherever they might be in the world.
Over the years, mindfulness practices have become important components of my clinical work and my personal life. Loving-Kindness Meditation remains one of my favorite mindfulness practices. I want to share it with you in hopes that you find it as meaningful as I do.
So sit back, get comfortable, and read through the following guide. You may wish to pause between each paragraph, close your eyes, and really let these words sink in. You may also have a friend or therapist read it aloud to you so you can keep your eyes closed and really focus on the prompts.
First, close your eyes and bring to mind an image that is warming and comforting, like a bright ray of sunshine beaming through an open window. Imagine that this image contains all of the well wishes in the world.
Imagine that this open window is coming from your chest, where your heart is beating. Picture the warm, yellow ray of sunshine beaming outward from the window, out into the world.
Now, bring to mind someone you love. It can be a family member, partner, friend, or pet. Picture their face, their expressions, what they might be wearing.
Visualize yourself sending this ray of light from yourself to shine upon this person, while you repeat the set of phrases below. (Note: if these phrases don’t resonate for you, come up with your own expressions for sending positive energy and love to this person.)
I appreciate your life.
I wish you a life of meaning and purpose.
May you be free from suffering.
May you feel peace.
Notice any sensations of softening or openness in your heart area as you focus on sending warmth to this person. Imagine that at this very moment, the recipient of your warmth is feeling comforted, like they’re receiving a soothing hug or feeling the energy of sunshine on their face.
Now, turn your attention toward yourself. Breathe deeply as you offer yourself compassion through repeating these phrases.
I appreciate my life.
I appreciate the care and kindness I give to myself and others.
May I live a life of meaning and purpose.
May I be free from suffering.
May I feel peace.
When you feel ready, you may return to the sights, sounds, and sensations of the room around you. Know that you can return to this space of openness and loving-kindness at any time, for as long as you wish.
Repeat these messages for several minutes, sending loving-kindness and warm wishes to as many people as you’d like. You can send your wishes to people you don’t know very well, people who have harmed you, or entire groups of people anywhere in the world. I recommend starting with someone who is very easy for you to offer love to, and then working your way up to people who might be harder to think about in a compassionate way.
The beauty of Loving-Kindness Meditation is that it can be done as often as you’d like, for as long as you’d like. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. The cues I've written above are meant to guide you, but please modify it to be authentic to you.
Many people find this practice helpful in forgiving themselves for past mistakes, and forgiving others for hurts they have caused. It’s important to allow yourself to use it in a way that works for you, without forcing yourself to offer this sentiment to anyone.
Have you done a loving-kindness meditation? I’d love to hear in the comments below! And if you'd like some help, I am here to guide you through this practice and many others. Click here to set up a virtual coaching session with me!
[Note: Loving-Kindness Meditation is a practice often credited to Dr. Kristin Neff, a researcher who coined the term "self-compassion." The guide here is my own original work, based on her theory and concepts. You may share my guide but please credit me as the author.]