Updated: Aug 27, 2020
“Us vs Them” has become a quite common sentiment and disagreements further drive this sentiment, while perpetuating the concept of otherness. Stories are imposed on us by where we live, our cultural background, our race, and our differing opinions, these imposed stories can challenge our sense of belonging.
Loving-kindness flips the divisive results of ‘Us v Them’ on its head, and instead reinforces love as a strength. Putting loving-kindness into practice means we no longer find disconnects between people, but instead we start to move towards understanding and navigate differences with compassion and equanimity. But, what does compassion look like? And, what does equanimity feel like?
What is Compassion?
Compassion is the motivation to relieve suffering. To experience compassion is to be emotionally moved by suffering, but to also deeply wish for there to be relief from suffering and a readiness to take action. Compassion must first be extended to Self. It is mandatory to take a deep meaningful look at assumptions, prejudice, and unnecessary labels that become unintentionally internalized, and apply compassion. We are not only required to push back against these ideals while looking at ourselves, but we must also do the work to clean up our perceptions of others. Dedication to compassion is dedication to exercising your brain to begin building trust for yourself and others, instead of intolerance.
Compassion and loving-kindness are about being less hard on ourselves while finding an increased capacity for empathy. Loving-kindness should be personally meaningful, and should also be a gentle and natural process.
What is Empathy?
Empathy can help you step into the shoes of another person in hopes to gain understanding for their feelings and perspectives, helping to positively guide your actions. Empathy can help you cultivate curiosity, challenge prejudices and discover similarities, step into vulnerability and inspire action and change.
What is Equanimity?
Equanimity is vital to maintaining a calm and composed state of mind in the most difficult situations. Equanimity is balanced, calm and reasonable, instead of emotionally reactive.
What is Generosity?
Generosity is giving selflessly without the expectation of anything in return. This is where you get to practice pouring into others.
ALl of the above come together to contribute to loving-kindness. Loving-kindness can change your perceptions and improve the way you live.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -Martin Luther King, Jr
Using empowering, meaningful, and firm statements, a loving-kindness meditation is ideally supposed to help you feel and know deep and enduring unconditional generosity. This type of meditation of course starts with Self and can then be extended to others. It is vital to meaningfully state your intentions and wishes, while letting the feeling flow naturally instead of forcing or seeking a feeling.
Once you have taken a deep dive into Self, loving-kindness meditation can be directed towards a friend or family member you are grateful for. The statements stay the same but are instead intentionally directed to someone outside of yourself.
As you move deeper into this meditation practice, you will direct loving-kindness towards a neutral person. This requires letting go of the urge to immediately write a story in your mind about a person you have mostly informal, causal interaction with. Think store clerks or a neighbor you do not have a personal relationship with.
Lastly and perhaps the most challenging is to practice loving-kindness for someone who is challenging in your life. The challenging person represents the difference between love or loving-kindness. Love can be conditional, while loving-kindness is completely selfless. It is important to start with someone who is the source of mild irritation instead of someone who has been the cause of deep pain in your life. Extending compassion to yourself is the most important part of this sort of meditation-- do not judge what comes up. If it comes let it, if it goes let it.
Guidelines for Loving-Kindness Meditation
Find a quiet, safe,and inviting space for your mediation. Do your best to choose a space that is free from distractions and will support you being able to focus. If you are just beginning your meditation practice, 3-5 minutes is a great goal and you can skip extending loving-kindness to a neutral and challenging individual. As your meditation practice grows you can add as much time as you would like.
These phrases must be directed towards general and universal blessings or offerings. These are not only statements for yourself, but statements you can also direct towards others.
Be happy. Be peaceful. Be healthy. Live with ease. May I be peaceful. May I have ease of heart. May I be free from danger. May I have happiness. May I be liberated. The list goes on based on your journey and your needs.
When reciting these powerful statements, take time to rest in them. Observe your feelings and continuously let go.
Setting Up Your Loving-Kindness Meditation
Sit comfortably, with eyes closed or in a soft gaze — however you feel most at ease. Set a timer for 3-10 minutes.
Choose three to four loving-kindness phrases, and begin to repeat them silently to yourself. Repeat the phrases slowly to create a calm, steady rhythm. This is a practice of paying attention in a deep way, so gather your attention on one phrase at a time and take time to pause each time you repeat the mantra. Find a pace for your breath, or simply focus on the mantra.
Note that there are no “shoulds” — there is no right way to feel and no need to generate a special feeling, just the need to detach from the outcome.
Remember that this is a practice of generosity. If you notice your attention wandering or your mind becoming fixated on a thought, try letting the distraction go with an exhale and return to the repetition of the phrases.
When your time is up, blink your eyes open gently or shift your gaze, and give yourself time to compassionately transition away from your practice.