Monday, March 30, 2015

Meditation Mondays: Loving Kindness

There are a ton of different kinds of meditation out there. Some of them are a lot harder to focus on than others, like those where you're dealing with difficult emotions. One of my favorites can be easier or harder depending on your focus and your mental state.

Loving kindness meditation (also referred to as Metta or Compassion meditation) is a great practice no matter your level of expertise. It helps with all sorts of things from PTSD and depression to happiness and self-love.

The basics of the meditation are as follows:

  1. Focus on the self. You can use any number of phrases, but the most common ones are along the lines of 'May I be well/happy/safe/peaceful/at ease.' You can even use all of these! This isn't something to skip over - you really need to sit with the intention of these words guided at yourself. Show yourself compassion and love. It's totally okay to get emotional when you do this, especially if you have self-love of esteem issues.
  2. Think about someone you love dearly. It could be your sister, husband, best friend - whoever you want to focus on at that moment. Some people focus on the first person to pop in their head while others try to pick someone who may be having a difficult time. Others do a mix. Find the idea that works for you.
  3. Focus on someone you respect - it could be your boss, a co-worker, a religious or academic figure. The important thing is for this person to be someone you appreciate and respect.
  4. Think about a neutral person towards whom you don't really have any feelings one way or another. It could be a neighbor, the checker you always seem to get at Target, someone at work you don't really interact with, etc.
  5. This is the really hard one... Focus on someone you have hostile feelings or dealings with. It could be a parent, health care professional you're stuck with, co-worker, etc. It's okay to feel anger, grief, and other negative emotions. Let yourself experience them. If it is too difficult, skip this part until you can build up to it - or pick someone less contentious.
  6. Now turn all of that hope, that potential for joy and happiness and love to ALL beings. May all beings find happiness. May all beings be peaceful and at ease. It especially helps to end on this note. You may be upset with the last step, and this can redirect you.

You start off with that focus on yourself - May I be well. May I be safe. May I be happy. Then you use those same phrases with the others. For example, here is a version of all of these that I might use: May my sister be peaceful. May my guinea pigs be happy and know how much we love them. May Dr. Vance be well. May Janice be happy. May Sharla at the bank be healthy. May my mother cease to be bitter. May all beings be safe and cared for.

Feel free to add to this too. Include your pets, plants, inanimate objects - whatever you can feel comfortable at the very least practicing sending love to.

It's very likely that you will begin to experience a lot of emotions. For some, that comes right away once you start. For others, it's something that takes time or only happens if you're dealing with some rough things. I find that this practice helps me to put into practice and do something with the love that I have for all living beings. Everyone deserves these things - to be happy and healthy and safe and peaceful, etc. This practice can help remind us that those we don't care for deserve those things too.

I've been skipping over part 5 for obvious reasons lately. Until I work through some of the things I experienced, I can't wish my mother or my grandmother well - even if they wouldn't know I was doing it. Everyone in my life is amazing and here for a reason, so I don't really have anyone else to focus on. As I get further in my therapy, I believe that I can pick this back up. I may follow my own advice in the next paragraph and see if that helps too.

Some people find it helps to focus on certain events while practicing this meditation. Maybe for part 5, you focus on someone who carried out a terrorist attack or hurt others in a similar way. Some people focus on someone who paid you a kindness recently - someone who helped you at work or in your personal life - for part 3. You can focus on the event - perhaps your favorite coworker from your last job took you out for margaritas recently to catch up. You could focus on the joy you experienced while with her, how you feel at ease with her, and send that back in this practice - May Janice find herself at ease and enjoying her life.

The important thing is to keep going with this. Do it once a day or once a week - a far enough span that you feel comfortable doing it and can recover from any emotions you may have. Again, this can be a very emotional process. 

The thing I love about meditation is that there's no focus on being perfect, because perfection doesn't exist in an attainable way. Don't focus on perfection - focus on doing what you can to feel as happy and safe and peaceful as you can. This is one of that meditation practices that helps me get to that place. I hope it can help you too.

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