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Loving Kindness Meditation

Loving Kindness Meditation

Darkness cannot drive out
darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

The loving kindness meditation has existed for thousands of years. There is a short story that goes along with it, where Buddha sends some monks into the forest to meditate. There are demons in the forest who make all kinds of disruptive noises; farting, and belching to distract the monks from their meditation. The exasperated monks return to Buddha, citing the distraction of the demons for their inability to meditate. At this point Buddha teaches the monks the loving kindness meditation. The monks return to the forest, open their hearts to the demons, relate to their suffering, and wish for the wellness of all involved. The demons are pacified, and instead of distracting the monks, they form a protective circle around them.

Before progressing further, I will take this opportunity to link to Susan Piver's blog post on the loving kindness meditation. It was through her book, "The Wisdom of a Broken Heart", that I discovered this meditation, and she explains everything much better than I do. I highly recommend both the book and her blog.

This is my simple religion.
There is no need for temples;
no need for complicated philosophy.
Our own brain, our own heart is our temple;
the philosophy is kindness.
-Dalai Lama

At the foundation of the loving kindness meditation are four phrases. These phrases are traditionally used, though you may modify them to something more natural if you choose. The four phrases are:

May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be peaceful.
May you live with ease.

I like to repeat the phrases 5 times at each stage in the meditation.

First, we start with ourselves. Now, I know we can be very hard on ourselves, but we are most deserving of our own love. Recognize that every decision you've made in the past, you were making with your best interest at heart. Every. Decision. Believe that if anyone is worthy of your own love and kindness, it is you. Whatever you are feeling in your heart, allow it to wash over you now, and say the magic words:

May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I be peaceful.
May I live with ease. (repeat 5x)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love,
joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness.
-Galatians, 5:22

Now that the feeling of self-love is washing over you, it is time to share that love with someone else. Who better than someone who naturally evokes a feeling of love within you? This can be a family member, a close friend, a beloved pet, or anyone else who, as Susan Piver describes, causes your heart to soften. Recognize that you share all the same feelings, of joy, love and pain. Believe that they seek the very things you do, and intend for them the following:

May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be peaceful
May you live with ease (repeat 5x)

This is the stage where you wish these wonderful things to a stranger. The stranger can be the clerk who bagged your groceries, someone you walked by on the street, or someone who you noticed in the coffee shop. The important thing is that you don't have a pre-existing feeling or opinion of this person. He or she is the stranger. Recognize that, like you, every decision this person has made was to experience happiness. Like you, this person has experienced both great triumph, and profound heartbreak in their life. With this in mind and in heart, make the familiar intention for the stranger:

May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be peaceful
May you live with ease (repeate 5x)

But I say unto you,
Love your enemies,
bless them that curse you,
do good to them that hate you,
and pray for them which despitefully use you,
-Matthew 5:44

Now comes the interesting part. The next step in this meditation is for what we call "the enemy". This is someone you feel wronged by. It could be an ex-lover or an ex-friend who you feel betrayed by, the twerp who cut you off in traffic this morning, or a family member that you just can't see eye to eye with. Whoever it is, try to understand that they seek the very same things you do. This person desires happiness, love and peace just like you. Their actions, no matter how hard to believe, were made to realize these very goals. Like you, this person has experienced profound loss in their life. Know that this person acted from the level of consciousness they have achieved. You needn't excuse their behaviour, but you can tap into the limitless love at your disposal, and wish for them the following:

May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be peaceful
May you live with ease (repeat 5x)

At this point, you may feel powerful surges of energy emanating from your heart centre. This is a perfect state of being for the final stage of the loving kindness meditation. Now is time to extend loving kindness to all beings. Try to realize that all beings have experienced heartache, loss, and injustice at some point; some are experiencing loss in this very moment. You might start off with people in your personal circle, and extend it outwards, or you might imagine different faces of beings all around the world. Whatever your method, tap into your heart centre, and wish the following:

May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be peaceful
May you live with ease (repeat 5x)

In this way, by opening your heart,
first to yourself, and then to all beings,
you open up to your own life.
-Susan Piver

I came across Susan Piver and her teaching of the loving kindness meditation during a difficult period in my life. It is a tool to discover the deep well of love that exists within each of us. Particularly, when we feel unable or unwiling to love anyone, especially ourselves. As with any tool, loving kindness is only effective if it is used. I echo Piver's teachings with the intention that they act as a light for others who feel lost in the darkness.