Practicing Loving Kindness Meditation
By Caren Galloway
I selected the topic of Loving Kindness Meditation because I wanted to share a personal experience that convinced me of the value of practicing Loving Kindness Meditation, referred to in Buddhism as metta.
First, however, I would like to provide very high level explanation of how Loving Kindness Meditation differs from “traditional” meditation.
- Loving Kindness Meditation: Very specific and focused
- Cultivating feelings of goodwill, kindness and warmth toward oneself, loved ones, acquaintances, adversaries, people of the world
- Achieving peace, reducing stress, and more
- Time commitment: 5 to 10 minutes
Loving Kindness Meditation is frequently described as one of the four types or sublime states of mind: Loving Kindness, Compassion, Appreciative Joy, and Equanimity. Wouldn’t we all like to live with this mindset 100% of the time?
Have you tried meditation? Are you currently meditating? Would you like to meditate more frequently? Loving Kindness might help you achieve that goal.
Business meeting run amok
Picture this: Before retiring, I was a banker with a special line of business. I loved my job, but challenging meetings occurred all too frequently and were increasingly stressful… very, very stressful.
Now this image is not a representation of what my meetings actually looked like. No, no, no… we were all very professional & composed, …cool …very civil. This picture is a representation of what we were all thinking and feeling. Everyone had their own agenda; no one wanted to listen to the other, and certainly no one really wanted to cooperate with the other.
Have you even been in a situation like this? You don’t have to work in a bank, like I did, to have stress. Parenting, marriage, school, and just about any profession has lots of stress, right?
My line of business was different. My clients did not fit the mold used to develop highly technical “Treasury Management Services” for Businesses.
Quick explanation: These services utilize technology that streamlines the acceptance and processing of paper and electronic payments, and better control over payables. They also prevent fraud and consolidate financial reporting.
My clients were not businesses, though. They were government organizations. Federal, state and local governments with unique federal and state banking rules, regulations, requirements and headaches. So while their needs were similar to those of business, their functionality and expectations were different. Standard bank services and sometimes bank policy did not quite fit their requirements.
So, that was my job. As an advocate for my clients and for my line of business, my job was to ask for exceptions. Exceptions to banking policy. Modifications to banking services. It required thinking outside of the box…it required additional resources…and, just in case you were not aware…banks are really not that flexible.
So, these meetings were stressful. Exceptions are not efficient, exceptions are costly, so my objectives and those of some of my business partners were in conflict. I understood that. However, to bank with my clients, I needed the modifications. They really did not want to make modifications. Thus the conflict.
By now, you must be asking yourself what does all this have to do with Loving Kindness?
Everything! The first time I consciously used Loving Kindness Meditation in preparing for one of these meetings, the stakes were high. Present were several, senior level internal business executives, most outranking me, from compliance, from legal, and the head of Commercial Banking. I had been in these meetings before and I knew what to expect. I believed the exceptions I needed were critical to the survival of my line of business. I had done my homework, prepared my business case and I thought I was ready.
Then, right before the meeting, I learned that my adversaries had added some last-minute issues, working together to build a case against my request. My stress was escalating.
Now, previous to this, I did not consider myself a meditator. In my family, Dick was the one that studied meditation, practiced medication and had even gone to an extensive meditation retreat.
Confession: I had not been that interested in meditation. In fact, at times, Dick tried very, very hard to convince me of the benefit, and, you might say, I resisted. However, when he started talking about Loving Kindness as one type of meditation, it struck a chord. I was interested. I was intrigued. I even tried it…and I liked it.
Be kind to unkind people
Back to my meeting: I knew I had to keep my cool and be objective and convincing. So, I practiced the 10-minute version of Loving Kindness Meditation the night before, again, right before the meeting, and to a certain extent, throughout the meeting.
As the meeting progressed, the Treasury Management Executive began making his case against my request. While I knew I had the information needed to justify the cost, there was no certainty that everyone would agree. I could feel my anxiety and frustration begin to escalate. He looked a little anxious, too. He knew me. We had been through this before.
I took a deep breath, smiled, and I began to consciously send feelings of goodwill, kindness, and warmth towards him. I quickly realized, to my surprise, my feelings were genuine. I was amazed at the impact. I felt my stress begin to melt away and I felt a sense of warmth and well-being in its place.
I cannot say that he returned feelings of Loving Kindness back to me, but I could see him relax a little. The meeting progressed smoothly. No voices were raised, no tables were hammered. We were genuinely professional and objective. When the meeting ended, there as a genuine sense of peace, respect, even consensus. Yes, if you were wondering, I did accomplish my objective.
Now I cannot promise you will always win your battles if you use this technique. It was the reduction of stress, before, during, and after the meeting that I can attribute to the Loving Kindness Meditation. That is what I want to share with you.
We can all use a little less stress in our lives, can’t we? I believe there are many personal benefits to using Loving Kindness in your daily routine. It also led to a much better relationship between me and my business partners, moving forward…as long as I kept smiling.
Research-based benefits to consider
According to Dr. Emma Seppälä, who is associate director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, there are at least 18 science-based reasons to try loving-kindness meditation. Dr. Seppala cites a number of studies that have shown benefits to include:
- Emotional intelligence in the brain
- Stress response
- Social connection
And it can have an immediate and long-term impact on your life.
Loving kindness meditation in practice
You can try a Loving Kindness Meditation right now. Here’s how:
Identify 4 or 5 types of people to whom you would like to radiate loving kindness.
- Family and dear friends
- A neutral person—somebody you know, but have no special feelings toward (e.g.: a person who serves you in a shop)
- A hostile person – someone you are currently having difficulty with
- The world
Why start with Self?
If the idea of self-love bothers you, as it does some, think of it as forgiving yourself or accepting yourself. Loving Kindness works both ways. If you cannot give it to yourself, how can you give it to others? Starting with yourself helps calm the mind, opening the path to be generous with others.
Tips and tools for arousing feelings of loving-kindness:
- Visualization – Bring up a mental picture. See yourself or the person the feeling is directed at smiling back at you or just being joyous.
- Reflection – Reflect on the positive qualities of a person and the acts of kindness they have done. And to yourself, making an affirmation, a positive statement about yourself, using your own words.
- Auditory – This is the simplest way but probably the most effective. Repeat an internalized mantra or phrase such as “loving-kindness.”
- Formulate your own set of well-wishes, such as:
- healthy in body, mind and spirit
- happiness, contentment, joy
- filled with compassion and peace
Close your eyes, relax, smile.
Repeat your affirmation for I.
Repeat for You – members of our congregation.
Repeat for the person of your choice.
This is a great meditation practice for children as well. They might choose parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, even people they may not like. (Tip: For your children at bedtime, you may want to limit the list to 3 or 4 people. Otherwise, his could become a great tool for delaying bedtime.)
Try it at home: In my experience, you can quickly return to the loving kindness mode if you have practiced even a short loving kindness meditation several times per week.
Does 5 to 10 minutes daily, or even several times a week seem achievable, for the potential benefits? I know it is for me. I hope it does for you as well.
This article is based on a sermon by Harmony UU member and board co-president Caren Galloway, and is published here with permission from the author.