Exploring Mindfulness, Loving Kindness and Compassion
Sponsored by the Loran Smith Center at Athens Regional Medical Center
Mindfulness Meditation or formal sitting meditation practice – Concentration and Awareness
Mindfulness is awareness that arises when we pay attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. Awareness – another way of knowing that is non-cognitive, experiential; Present moment – now (“Be Here Now”), not in the future or in the past. Paying attention, both through formal meditation and informal practices, allows us to see more clearly, to be less reactive and more responsive, to gain insights, to develop a reservoir of peace and energy, and to be more compassionate to self and others. The heart of mindfulness is a gentle, curious awareness. Just observing directly, nothing added.
Mindfulness and Loving Kindness
Mindfulness and Loving Kindness have the same aim: to end suffering, to work with negative emotions, to open to loving kindness (metta), compassion karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha).
Loving kindness, is a heartfelt quality of mind – friendliness, openness, and connectedness. This is a concentration practice that opens the heart. It is often referred to as Metta (i.e. Pali term). It is one of the four “immeasurables” – Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity often cultivated along with mindfulness.
Loving Kindness involves focusing on the goodness in people, looking beyond their negative qualities, acknowledging the complexity of the whole person. When we relate to the good qualities in people, loving kindness arises naturally. Awareness is similar to love in that we are paying attention in a full way.
“Love” – can be a complex and distorted concept based on movies, books, advertising, and our own expectations. Loving kindness is not about sentimentality or romantic love. Loving kindness is like friendliness – more humble than love. Loving kindness is friendly and spontaneous; it is responsive to other people and situations around us. It is a basic natural openness of heart that lets the world in.
Joseph Goldstein writes, ‘loving kindness is the generosity and openness of heart that simply wishes well for other beings and ourselves – Mindfulness, (2014) p. 354).
Loving Kindness deliberately cultivates and develops universal, selfless love toward all beings with the intentions of being happy and being well. Sharon Salzberg in Real Happiness (2011, p. 146) notes that love is an ability.
The aim of loving kindness practice is to deepen our connection with others and ourselves, to feel equanimity toward all beings, and all things. Loving kindness concentrates our heart and mind, radiating friendliness and compassion in all directions
Benefits of Practicing Loving Kindness
- 1. To see more clearly what is skillful and unskillful in the choices we make, leading to more skillful choices and thereby happiness.
- 2. To become less reactive with fewer judgments and better able to respond.
- 3. To realize that our feelings do not ultimately depend on others or their behavior; how we feel about someone is up to us.
Loving Kindness Meditation Practice
When doing this practice, it is fine to not feel any particular emotions as you begin practice (although when your practice deepens this may change); we are working on a deeper level than the emotions, a sense of openness and connection with all beings. Loving kindness is not about romantic love or passion or sentimentality or about approval – we’re challenging the idea of “us versus them.”
Paradoxically negative emotions (anger, fear, etc.) may arise as we practice; meet these emotions with mindfulness – acceptance, curiosity and interest, and equanimity; bring attention to any reactivity experienced. Then come back to the phrases with the intention to extend loving kindness.
Begin with Awareness of Breath practice, focusing your attention on the physical sensations of the breath. When the mind wanders, just notice and then gently but firmly return the focus of your attention to the breath. Allowing the mind to calm.
Next create or generate, to whatever degree available to you at this time, feelings of loving kindness – friendliness, warmth, openness, and connectedness in the heart area. To help with this, bring to mind someone who loves you unconditionally. Perhaps visualizing them and generating some sense of openness and warmth in your heart, a sense of loving kindness. You may not feel anything at first and that is alright too. Keep this sense of loving kindness alive as you repeat the phrases.
At first, direct loving kindness toward yourself, repeating the phrases which include wishes for safety, health, happiness, and peace. Feel free to create your own phrases. What is more important than the words is the felt-sense beneath the words. Begin by directing these wishes towards yourself, then extend the sense of loving kindness to a mentor or benefactor; then to a neutral person, next to a slightly difficult person (gradually working up to more difficult persons or situations), and then expanding loving kindness to include all beings, everywhere.
When the mind wanders, bring attention back to the phrases or the breath (gently, but firmly). The wandering mind (thoughts taking control of attention) is natural and normal. When you notice the mind has wandered from the phrases, simply meet whatever is in the moment with a kind, gentle, curious attention, then move to the next phrase or come back to the breath and then go on to the next phrase.
Repeat phrases gently and softly to yourself; focus attention on the phrases, extending the felt sense of love and friendliness. Salzberg (2011) suggests we, “Gather your intentions behind the phrases, to connect, to include rather than exclude, to pay attention in a different way. Recognize a connection that is deeper than emotions.
The ability to love is already within us. Loving kindness practice, repeating the phrases, is like watering the seeds of kindness. Just allow the seeds to grow in their own time. You will notice your loving kindness ability growing in many and various ways with practice.
Goldstein reminds us that, the practice is done without expectations of any returns for the practice; loving kindness does not seek self-benefits; even loving kindness directed toward one’s self is “simply the gateway to an open heart.” (2014, p. 354).
Keep in mind: as with developing any practice it requires practice and patience.
Loving Kindness – Informal or Daily Practices/Activities
- 1. To nourish loving kindness, look for the good in someone
- 2. Bring to mind someone/something that makes you feel happy inside
- 3. When walking down the street, wish each person you see – “be happy, be well.”
The Dali Lama observed – “I’ve never met anyone I consider a stranger.” When you have a few minutes, practice one or more of the phrases throughout the day.
Compassion is the experiencing of a trembling or quivering of the heart at the suffering of another or one’s self, and the intention to relieve the suffering.
Characteristics of Compassion
Being compassionate is not about being weak or passive or being overcome by suffering. On the contrary it allows us to acknowledge, open to the suffering and to act to reduce the suffering. Steps in developing compassion includes 1) being able to acknowledge the suffering of self or another, 2) open to the pain or suffering – developing a relationship to the suffering, 3) compassion arises with a quality of equanimity; 4) gaining a sense of another’s experience of suffering (empathy), 5) look at the full “picture” – the context and conditions that caused the suffering, and 6) respond to the pain or suffering with wisdom.
We are developing unconditional friendliness or kindness to all beings, including ourselves.
In short, compassion arises from seeing the truth of suffering and opening to it. Through compassion our lives become an expression of all that we understand and care about and value,” Sharon Salzberg (Loving Kindness: The Revolution of Happiness. 1995). Sharon says, “We’re purifying and transforming our relationship to suffering, ours and or others’.
Mindfulness, Loving Kindness, and Compassion
Mindfulness supports Loving Kindness and Compassion and they work together, enabling us to be acknowledge suffering, to open to and be present suffering, to offer friendliness (love), and to take action to reduce the suffering acting from wisdom. It is said that, ‘like a great bird needs two wings to soar, one needs both the clarity of wisdom gained through mindfulness and the kind embrace of compassion.’ Compassion is a natural response to clear seeing and wisdom. And it is interesting to note that mindfulness activates and strengthens areas of the brain that are also active in empathy and compassion.
Benefits of having a Compassion Practice
Many of the benefits of mindfulness are the same a mindfulness and loving kindness – being about to acknowledge and open to suffering, strengthening concentration, being more present with others, less mind wandering, and the cultivating of awareness.
- 1. Begin with an Awareness of Breath practice to settle the mind and body.
- 2. Repeat one or two phrases with a real person in mind who is suffering. Keep in mind their circumstances of suffering, difficulties and heartbreak. Direct the phrases initially toward one’s self and then expand to a benefactor, a friend, neutral person, difficult person, and all beings.
- 3. Phrases – try developing your own phrases. Some use these for example: May you be free of your pain and sorrow. May you find peace. You may wish for a more loving acceptance of pain. Find a phrase of phrases that resonate with you. If fear or sorrow arises work with it by acknowledging that this is natural. Come back to the breath then open to the difficult emotions and see what’s “underneath” them.
For research on Mindfulness Meditation, Loving Kindness, and Compassion visit http://www.goamra.org – the American Mindfulness Research Association.
The Mindfulness Practice Group – meets every second Friday of the month from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. These mindfulness meditation sessions are free and open to the public – for those just interested in learning more about mindfulness practices, beginners, and those with established practices. All are welcome. Visit MindfuLiving.Org for details or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Mindfulness Dedicated Practitioners Group meets at the Healing Lodge every Saturday from 8:30-9:30 a.m. to practice mindfulness. All are welcome-just drop-in. Contact JaseyJones@gmail.com for questions.
“For the raindrop,
joy is entering the river.”
For the raindrop, joy is in entering the river –
Unbearable pain becomes its own cure.
Travel far enough into sorrow, tears turn to sighing;
In this way we learn how water can die into air.
When, after heavy rain, the storm clouds disperse,
Is it not that they’ve wept themselves clear to the end?
If you want to know the miracle,
how wind can polish a mirror,
Look: the shining glass grows green in spring.
It’s the rose’s unfolding, Ghalib, that creates the desire to see-
In every color and circumstance, may the eyes be open for what comes. — Ghalib (1797-1869)