Let us first explore some of the helpful qualities of mindfulness. Many of my patients, friends and family have expressed the challenges they face when they have tried to meditate. When we put rules and expectations on ourselves, with how we think we are supposed to do meditation, we often quit before we really ever get started.
Here are some helpful and compassionate guidelines for you to follow when developing a meditation practice:
- Be open: with your senses, eyes, ears, smells, and feelings.
- Awareness: continuous and sustained; keep coming back to your focus, you will notice over time your awareness will sustain for longer periods of time.
- Be non-judgmental: bring awareness without judging your mind, let the thoughts come and go, noticing.
- Acceptance: be in a state of allowing and just stay present.
- Stay with your direct experience in the moment: stay out of conceptual stories.
- Unadulterated thoughts: don’t add or take away from awareness that doesn’t exist, avoid the stories.
- Be loving, kind and compassionate: greet thoughts that arise like a dear friend or child.
So, with these qualities in mind, remember that mindfulness and meditation is a practice. When we begin training for a marathon, we start slow and methodical. There is a plan and a regularity to our training. Some days are short and other days are longer. In time we are ready to run the marathon, every little bit of practice makes a difference. When we are focusing on an object, (this article focuses on loving kindness phrases as our object of focus) we can continually repeat it. When we lose awareness and begin saying the phrases without focus, the mind will bring thoughts to the surface. Remember that thoughts are okay! When they come, notice, accept, and be aware, staying with the thoughts. When you are ready, go back to the loving kindness phrases below.
So, yes, one of my favorite ways of practicing the qualities of mindfulness in meditation is through Loving Kindness. It is an easier way to stay with an object of focus, and additionally, in our current state of the world, we can all use a little more loving kindness in our lives. Another advantage of loving kindness is that we focus on ourselves, bringing care, kindness and wisdom within. This helps us with self-care, so that we are filled up to share and provide care for others.
When you are starting to do loving kindness, the goal is to feel a loving presence in your own heart. If this feels easy for you, then you can flow with this in mind. However, many people have difficulty feeling love for themselves initially, and that is okay too. It is all part of the process. So, if you recognize that it is difficult for you to bring a loving presence to yourself, I recommend starting your loving kindness practice thinking of someone or something who you cherish and feel abundant love for. Some examples are a partner, a parent, a child, a close friend, or a pet. You will be able to circle back around to yourself, before you are through.
Close your eyes and bring the loving presence of yourself or your cherished one to your heart.
Then you can begin saying the following simple loving kindness phrases.
May I live without fear and anxiety
May I be happy
May I be at ease
May you (loved one) live without fear and anxiety
May you be happy
May you be at ease
May all people live without fear and anxiety
May all people be happy
May all people be at ease
When you are saying each line – there is a four-part technique to keep in mind.
- Have an image of loving kindness and bring a felt sense of being with yourself or the loved one present
- Feel in your heart the loving presence
- Say the phrase
You can say the phrase as many times as feels complete for you. I set my insight timer for 5-30 minutes a day (it all depends on how much time I have) and begin by saying the loving kindness phrases for myself, my family, friends, patients, community and ending with all people. When I do this, my meditation feels complete. If you are not starting with yourself, remember to include yourself at some point before you include all people. When we can include ourselves and everyone in our mindfulness, we connect as a greater community, working towards a kinder and more compassionate world.