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According to Barbara Fredrickson, exercises like loving kindness meditation can help to pull us out of self-absorption and see others in their full humanity, not as a means to an end. That’s the basis for non-exploitative relationships. In this article, she provides step-by-step instructions on how to use meditation to develop our capacities in this way. I hope you’ll try them out.
Try This Meditation Practice: Loving Kindness
Find a quiet place where you are unlikely to be interrupted. If you’re in a chair, scoot back in your seat so that the lowest part of your spine is well supported and straighten your spine up toward the sky. Lean forward from the back of the chair just a bit. Relax your shoulders and pull them back slightly. This position allows you to expand your ribcage in all directions when you breath, creating more spaciousness around your heart.
Place your feet flat on the floor, so that the heels and balls of your feet make equal connection with the ground. Rest your palms gently on your thighs. If sitting like this doesn’t appeal to you, find any other position that makes you feel both alert and relaxed and that allows your chest to expand. Once you are physically comfortable, let your eyes drift closed. Or if you find that awkward, set your gaze lightly on a spot on the floor in front of you, or at a simple, peaceful object.
Bring your awareness to the sensations of your own heart. Breathe to and from your heart. Notice how each breath brings new energy to your heart, and allows your heart to send life-giving oxygen coursing throughout your body. Rest in this awareness for several breathes. Now, in this quiet moment, visualize someone for whom you already feel warm, tender, and compassionate feelings. This could be your child, your spouse - anyone whom the mere thought of makes you smile. Let their smiling face surface in your mind’s eye.
As you take in their image, with the lightest mental touch, briefly call to mind this person’s good qualities. Your goal is to rouse warm and tender feelings naturally, by visualizing how connecting with this loved one makes you feel. Once these tender feelings have taken root, creating genuine warmth and kindness in you, gently repeat the traditional phrases of Loving Kindness Meditation, silently to yourself, in some form or another. The traditional phrases go something like this:
May this one (or I, we, he, she, or they) feel safe.
May they feel happy.
May they feel healthy.
May they live with ease.
The words themselves are not as critical as the sentiments and emotions they evoke. You can rephrase the statements in ways that serve to stir your heart the most. You might try extending the phrases ever-so slightly to draw out the intent of each wish more fully. Although your mind may pull you to race ahead, try to reflect on these phrases slowly, at your heart’s pace. Silently say no more than one phrase to yourself with each breath cycle. Visualize what the fulfillment of each wish would look like. How would the person’s face and body posture appear? What energy would be created? In the space between breaths, pause just a moment to feel your heart and body.
Really notice them. Discover what sensations arise in you. After you’ve slowly and steadily repeated the phrases for this particular loved one for a few minutes, gently let go of their image and simply hold the warm and tender feelings in your heart region. Next, radiate your warm and friendly feelings to someone else, perhaps to another person that you know well. Visualize this person’s face, and gently and briefly call to mind their good qualities. Now again, with this new person in mind, slowly repeat the classic Loving Kindness Meditation phrases, or your own renditions of them.
Visualize how this person would appear if each wish were to come true for them, pausing just a moment between each phrase to notice how your body responds. As you continue to practice, gradually call to mind all your friends and family, as a group. Wish them all well through your body’s appreciation of the classic phrases. Next, welcome in all the people with whom you share a connection - even remote connections, like the service person you reached on your last call for tech support. Use the phrases to extend your goodwill as far as you can. As you end your meditation, gently remind yourself that you can generate these feelings of kindness and warmth any time you wish. By taking time with this activity, you’ve begun to condition your emotions to more readily do just that. You’ll now be better prepared to experience true connection with others.
This article has been adapted by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from LOVE 2.0 by Barbara Fredrickson Ph.D. Copyright 2013 by Barbara Fredrickson Ph.D.