The simple act of sending good wishes to other people opens you up to better and stronger relationships while boosting your own happiness. I described this Loving Kindness Meditation practice in detail in this post last week. And I encouraged all of you to try out a simple five minute version of this meditation this past week and see how it works for you. If you didn’t get a chance last week, give it a try right now.
This week we’re going to explore a little more about this practice: how it works and how to expand it to get more benefit.
How Loving Kindness Meditation works
In the short term, this practice can often fill you with positive emotion. When this happens, you tap into all the incredible benefits of a happier brain — a more open and flexible mind, higher levels of success, more energy, more motivation and better health. And you are much more likely to think beyond yourself and your cocoon of self-interest, noticing what other people need and doing things both large and small to help them. It also creates opportunities for positivity resonance (see this post for a review) which directly helps bond you with others.
Even more importantly, this practice can reshape your brain over time. Neuroscientists say ‘neurons that fire together, wire together.’ The more you practice certain patterns of thought — in this case sending loving wishes to others — the more these patterns become the default way you look at the world. So each time you do this meditation practice, the more likely your default thoughts will be loving rather than annoyed/suspicious/jealous/your-negative-emotion-of choice. This, in turn, builds more happiness, trust and warm feelings which strengthens your connection with ALL the people in your life.
Expanding the practice
To Friends, coworkers and people everywhere. At the beginning of LKM, you start with people that you love a lot. As you get more practiced at generating those positive feelings, you can expand the pool of people who are the subject of your good wishes. You can bring these feelings of loving-kindness to friends, and then to other people at work or neighbors or community members, and ultimately to people everywhere. It is in opening to love towards friends, acquaintances and those you don’t yet know that can help ease your path to connecting more with anyone you encounter.
NOTE: This is NOT about becoming some super being of love that never gets annoyed or angry or says a negative word about another. Instead, it’s about tapping into love that is already in your life, savoring it and expanding it to others. If practicing these meditations helps you tap into a little more love during a couple interactions each day or week, that is enough over time to make a big difference in your life.
To yourself. In traditional LKM practice, you start with yourself. But western teachers quickly recognized that our culture brings a level of self-criticism that complicates the loving kindness practice. Many of us, me included, tend to withhold love to ourselves. This caused many western teachers to change the traditional order of the meditation. We start instead with loved ones and then move on to bringing that love inward. Over time, with loving kindness meditation we learn to find ourselves worthy of our love (BTW, if bringing love to yourself is a big challenge you face, explore this post on Self-Compassion Meditation.)
To difficult people. And when you are ready for the graduate level course on loving kindness meditation, add the difficult people in your life to the practice. We get amazing power when we can send love to those people who regularly annoy us or who’ve done us wrong. As Jack Kornfield, a famous meditation teacher says, “Like water on a stone sometimes, the drops of loving kindness even in the places of greatest difficulty begin to wear away the closedness, the hardness of the heart. They begin to bring water back and nourish that sweet current of love that is there in each one of us.”
Loving Kindness meditation is one of my favorite happiness-generating practices. While none of the happiness habits work EVERY time, this practice is one that more consistently brings up my mood. While it often works best when I’m sitting quietly and following along with a guided meditation, I play with it at different times too. I will often listen to a guided loving kindness meditation when I’m on a run and I practice sending those good wishes to others who are out walking their dog or people who are in their houses that I pass by. When the good feelings combine with the endorphins from the run, I’ve experienced some incredible and loving runners-highs (not sure what people think when they see that giant smile on my face as I job by…). It’s also fun to go through the loving kindness phrases when I’m stuck in traffic or waiting in line somewhere. It gives me something positive to do rather than cycling into complaining or boredom. And it sometimes induces me to make connections I would have otherwise skipped.
Try out this practice for the next 3 weeks. Keep using the 5-minute recording, if that’s all you have time for. If you really enjoy the practice, build more time in as you can. And if it seems like hard work for more than a couple days, take a break and come back to it another time. This practice is supposed to be enjoyable and add to your happiness, NOT add to your stressful list of to do’s. Give yourself this gift of love and kindness and see how it changes your perspectives on the world.
I’ve included several different guided meditations below.
Guided Loving Kindness Meditations
Different people connect better with different voices when doing guided meditation, so I give you several options below. I also wanted to offer different lengths of meditation so that you can fit it into the time you have in your life. Feel free to come to this page to listen or right click on each one you want to download by using the “save link as” option:
Also know that with any of these guided meditations, you can change the phrases to words that work best for you. Use phrases that most open your heart to kind and loving feelings.
Recordings from Others
Give this practice a try. It’s worth it!
Eric Karpinski, The Happiness Coach
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