In an all too busy world it is easy to overlook loving kindness and it’s benefits. Life today seems to be harder than ever before, our society seems to offer everything we could possible desire yet it is a fact that there are more and more of us struggling with difficult and upsetting emotional states. Depression, anxiety and mental health are this century’s biggest challenges. The practice of loving kindness is just an inherited quality but loving kindness can be learnt and taught and that is what we are about to discover.
Loving kindness is compassion, happiness, and unconditional love, it isn’t anger or hatred, greed or despair, loving kindness as described by the sacred Buddhist text is the first of the four sublime states, the others are compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity. Wikipedia quotes loving kindness, or Metta, as “the cultivation of benevolence” and the Oxford English Dictionary states loving kindness as “tenderness and consideration towards others”.
What is loving kindness in Buddhism?
Loving kindness or Metta Bhavana meditation has been used by the Buddhists for over 2500 years, developed to build the characteristics of compassion, equanimity, happiness, joy and wellbeing. The only way to know, is to practice. It is a practice not just for loving kindness to oneself but should be directed out towards every living being, to our greatest loves and to those we may be having difficulty with. Metta Bhavana practiced regularly helps to build our concentration rapidly in meditation practice, enabling us to progress much quicker along the path. The four sublime states that practicing Metta Bhavana ring are called the Brahmavihara and they are compassion, loving kindness, altruistic joy and equanimity.
Loving kindness meditation benefits
The health benefits of the practice of loving kindness and Metta meditation, have been studied in great number from western scientists in the last 30 years and all can agree that stress levels reduce, depression can be eliminated, anger subsides, a sense of calming and wellbeing arise, blood pressure lowers, gives you a sense of satisfaction and of belonging and will Increases happiness and compassion. There are many other positive side effects with no negative reactions or problems. The mental health benefits are equally impressive, nut this is not some quick fix pill to take this still takes time and practice. So how do we practice
How do you practice Loving kindness?
There are a few methods and ways to practice loving kindness, the method I describe below I find works wonderfully for me. It is one of visualisation, I was a Buddhist monk in Northern Thailand and after many years of meditation practice and guidance I find this is the most suitable way for my western mind. This method however is just one of the three ways to practice which will achieve loving kindness in the heart. Reflecting and auditory are the other two methods used to create the feeling of loving kindness. Reflect on the positive qualities of yourself or a loved one will ensure loving kindness to flourish with in the heart. Using a mantra is the auditory approach and an example could simple be the words loving kindness.
The First thing we need to do is find the love from within ourselves. Now I understand that may sound a little scary to some. Visualisation is a great way to achieve love inside, we all have something we love, something that will bring that feeling back when you start to think deeply enough about it. For me this is my adopted stray dog Marley and the crazy fun things he gets up to. If your still finding difficulty thinking of something that your really love this much, then try hitting this link 7 wonders of life, it will help you find something wonderful in your life to feel that loving kindness and to help with the practice. Now that we have our object of focus, it time to relax.
Find a comfortable place somewhere you won’t be disturbed. Now sitting in a comfortable position with a straight spine, gently relax your shoulder and neck muscles and slowly close your eyes. Take a few long deep breaths and feel yourself relaxing. Let’s start by calmly watch your breathing, don’t disturb your breathing, just let it be natural. Breathing in, be aware your breathing, breathing out, be aware your breathing out. Count one. This is a great link to learn how to practice Breath Meditation. Relax and do this for s count of ten.
Now bring your object of love to the forefront of your mind and begin to feel the love you have. really start to explore that feeling, the feeling of love. Don’t worry if you feel a little resistance at first, be kind to yourself and be patient. Try to find where the feeling is coming from, do you notice how the feeling grows the more you explore it. Again don’t panic if you feel resistance to this, it is all ok, it just means a little more patience and kindness towards yourself is needed. Now feel that love start to consume you, feel it’s warmth, is your smile hurting you cheeks yet. If you are having trouble visualising, please still use loving kindness with yourself, this is not going to be easy for some. Tell yourself it’s ok we can have another go later, always be patient and kind towards yourself and even that is practicing loving kindness.
Once we have the feeling of love flowing within ourselves, it’s time to send out our love to others. We now use a mantra with our loving kindness, to truly send out our positive vibration to the chosen person. First we start with ourselves. Repeat this ten times to yourself, or out loud that’s entirely up to you.
May I be happy
May I be free from metal suffering and distress
May I be free of physical pain and suffering
May I be peaceful and at ease
Now we are going to give that love from our heart, that loving kindness to someone dear to us, this could be a spouse, child or a loved friend. Again repeat ten times.
May (insert name) be happy
May (insert name) be free from suffering and distress
May (insert name) be free of physical pain and suffering
May (insert name) be peaceful and at ease
If you find your mind wanders or you notice your loving kindness looses it ferocity, at this point always be kind and patient with yourself, slowly return to the original object of focus, take a few deep breaths and start again. once you have established the feeling again in your heart, continue with the mantra.