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December 17, 2016

Use meditation to generate (and spread) positive feelings

How to practice loving kindness meditation

There exists a type of meditation specifically designed to change patterns of negative thought (sweetening the mind), cultivate the qualities of love, and send that good, positive energy out into the world. The Buddhists refer to this type of meditation as “loving-kindness” meditation. After you read about it below, you may agree with me that it should be considered a civic duty to practice it!

Your choice: either watch our video below or read on.

The qualities of love to cultivate in yourself

Loving-kindness meditation is based on the premise that 1) the mind can be trained to cultivate and produce certain feelings and attitudes and 2) that negativity cannot coexist with loving-kindness; therefore we can dissipate negativity when we supplant it with thoughts based on loving-kindness. (In other words, you are doing the world and yourself a big favor when you cultivate loving-kindness.)

Let’s take a look at the four qualities of love that a loving kindness meditation is designed to cultivate:

  • Friendliness: an expression of warmth and good will that flows out to others.
  • Compassion: empathy with other people’s difficulties (not to be confused with pity, which is a painful focus on others’ weakness and vulnerability in the midst of their difficult circumstances)
  • Appreciative joy:  appreciation of other people’s good qualities or good fortune (the opposite of this would be jealousy)
  • Equanimity: An attitude that is not to be confused with indifference or aloofness. It is evenness of mind, and an indifference only to the selfish demands of the ego. As such, equanimity can be regarded as the “protector” of love and compassion (when you are not controlled by your own personal likes and dislikes, you are more likely to act lovingly).

Start with yourself

If you harbor attitudes of negativity and judgment towards yourself, you will find yourself applying these attitudes to others. This is why loving kindness meditation practice requires that you learn to love yourself first. This is very difficult for many people. If the word “love” is difficult, start by substituting it with “acceptance”, “openness to” or “willing attention”–all of these words point to the openness that characterizes an attitude of love.

Develop loving-kindness towards these four types of people

Again, you would start with yourself. Then, over time, apply the meditation practice (techniques shared below) from person to person in the order below:

  1. Respected, beloved person (such as a teacher or personal hero)
  2. Close family member or friend
  3. Neutral person (somebody that you know for whom you have no special feelings – like a waiter in a restaurant)
  4. A hostile person: somebody with whom you are currently experiencing difficulty.

Loving-kindness meditation techniques

Below are three meditation devices designed to arouse feelings and attitudes of loving kindness. You can use all of them or choose to focus on one that feels most natural to you. Sit in a quiet place and minimize distractions. Set a timer, close your eyes, and practice one of the exercises below for the duration of that time:

  1. Visualization: Bring up a mental picture. See yourself or the person the feeling is directed at smiling back at you or just being joyous.
  2. Reflection: Reflect on a given person’s positive qualities or any of their past acts of kindness. When applied to yourself, use your own words to make a positive statement about yourself–then focus on that positive statement.
  3. Mantra: This is the simple– internally repeat a loving word or phrase of your choosing. Direct it to another or to yourself (examples: “May I be well in body and mind” or “May I be at ease and happy”)

During the meditation, your chosen mental exercise will eventually arouse actual positive feelings (this may not come easily, so be please be patient with yourself). When you sense such a feeling arise, switch from focusing on the mental device above to the feeling itself as the primary focus.

If the feeling weakens or dissipates, you can return to the meditation device until the feeling returns.

Share the wealth

The second stage of a loving-kindness meditation practice is to mentally project the positive feelings you arouse in yourself out into the world.

There are many techniques for doing so, such as imagining that you are spreading the feeling towards all four cardinal directions (north, south, east, west). You can also keep certain people, places or communities in mind while holding the feeling.

Buddhists regard a loving-kindness meditation practice as coming to maturity when there is “non-specific pervasion”. In other words, when you have become so skilled at generating feelings of loving-kindess and sending them out, that they spontaneously radiate out from you as a consistent attitude of love, one that is applied indiscriminately.

Take it with you in day-to-day life

Loving-kindness practice is not meant to be isolated to your seated meditation practice. When you cultivate those good vibes, intentionally bring them out into your home, neighborhood, work and interactions with the world. This has the outward appearance of directing a friendly attitude of openness to to whoever or whatever life presents to you.

So many benefits to having a meditation practice

Generating (and spreading) good feelings is just ONE of the myriad benefits of a regular meditation practice. Explore our videos-articles covering several other benefits below.

Questions or comments about meditation or your meditation practice?

We’d love to hear them! Please leave them in the comments below.

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