Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) offers a soothing balm to the anxious, depressed, angry or fatigued soul. When circumstances outside spiral out of control, it can provide the fastest way to feel better on the inside.
These days, compassion fatigue is being felt not only by health care and essential workers, but at all levels of society grappling with the demands of a changing world. Even a few minutes practicing LKM creates a shift. And that shift is marked.
According to renowned meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, “The practice of lovingkindness is revolutionary because it has the power to radically change our lives, helping us cultivate true happiness in ourselves and genuine compassion for others.” Salzberg recently released the 25th anniversary edition of her defining book on the practice. LKM focuses on developing feelings of goodwill, kindness, and warmth by repeating simple phrases wishing those things for yourself and for others.
Benefits of the Practice
Repeating these phrases feels good in the moment, but they can also have long-term effects on our brains after meditating. Daniel Goleman - scientist, Pulitzer Prize nominee and Emotional Intelligence expert - explains how this type of meditation can impact our mind and our outlook “right from the get go,” in this video from BigThink.
“We find, for example, that even people who’ve just started doing this meditation actually are kinder, they’re more likely to help someone in need, they’re more generous and they’re happier,” Goleman explains. “It turns out that the brain areas that help us or that make us want to help someone that we care about also connect with the circuitry for feeling good. So it feels good to be kind, and all of that shows up very early in just a few hours of practicing loving-kindness or compassion meditation.”
LKM positively impacts our emotions, our physical health, and our sense of connection. It can help counteract the negative impacts of low social connection, which is worse for us than smoking, obesity and high blood pressure, according to Emma Seppälä, Ph.D, with Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research & Education.
Other benefits include increased self-love and decreased self-criticism. And it can actually decrease biological aging by lessening the impact of stress at the chromosome level. Seppälä’s research also shows that LKM is effective in immediate and small doses (i.e. instant gratification) but it also has long-lasting and enduring effects.
Goleman and Seppälä agree that loving-kindness practices strengthen empathic concern: our ability to care about another person and want to help them.
How to Practice LKM
When you first begin your loving kindness practice, use yourself as the sole subject during meditation. Repeat these phrases to yourself, feeling the meaning settling in your heart and your mind.
As you get more comfortable with the imagery and loving phrases, begin to add the visualization of others into your practice.
Next, direct loving kindness toward difficult people in your life. This arm of LKM boosts feelings of forgiveness and helps you to let go of anger and grievances for an increased sense of inner peace.
Finally, repeat the phrases for all beings. Wishing loving-kindness to all sentient beings honors the ways in which we are all connected by the desire to be well and be happy.
As you develop a regular practice of meditation, you may want to set a timer with a gentle alarm to enable relaxation into the time you have allotted.
The practice is also portable. By bringing LKM off the cushion and into the real world, you can carry the benefits with you during times of waiting. Sharon Salzberg offers guidance on how in this short video on #streetlovingkindness.
This week’s My Mentor column tells my own story with LMK, and the impact Sharon Salzberg has had on my life.