Mindfulness, Loving Kindness & Compassion
Exploring how mindfulness, loving kindness and compassion create the conditions for a more caring life for yourself and others – talk and practice.
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 is about focusing your mind on one thing, one-pointedness of mind. The heart of mindfulness is a kind, gentle, curious awareness. Just observing directly, nothing added.
Benefits of Mindfulness – Mindfulness enables 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.
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, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.
Loving kindness, is a heartfelt quality of mind – friendliness, openness, and connectedness, 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” (having no measures, dissolving boundaries that constrain us), found in the Pali Sutras – Loving Kindness (Metta), and Compassion (Karuna), Sympathetic Joy (Mudita), and Equanimity (Upekkha).
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 fully paying attention.
“Love” – can be a complex and distorted concept based on movies, books, advertising, and our expectations. Loving kindness is not about sentimentality or romantic love. Rather, Loving Kindness can be thought of as friendliness – more humble than love. Loving kindness is spontaneous; it is responsive to other people and situations around us. It is a basic natural openness of the 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, (2013) p. 354).
Loving Kindness deliberately cultivates and develops universal, selfless love toward all beings to be happy and be well. Sharon Salzberg in Real Happiness (2011, p. 146) notes that lovingkindness “… is the ability to take some risks with our awareness-to look at ourselves and others with kindness instead of reflexive criticism…” 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.
Loving Kindness Meditation – Practice
When doing this practice, it is fine to not feel any particular emotions (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.
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. We will say more about this below – how it helps us in letting go.
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. We allow the mind and body to calm and relax.
Next, much as a method actor might create or generate a feeling through visualization, we may create 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 seeing them in your mind’s eye, 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. See if you can keep this sense of loving kindness if it arises – an openness and warmth in the heart/chest area, alive as you repeat the phrases. Alternatively, you might think of the wish we all share to be happy and noticing how this may feel.
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. Keep in mind: as with developing any practice, art, or craft it requires regular practice and patience.
Now direct a sense of loving kindness toward yourself, repeating the phrases which include these wishes: May I be safety; May I be health; May I be happiness and content. May I live with ease. Feel free to create your own phrases. More important than the phrases is the felt-sense beneath the words.
Begin by directing these wishes towards 1) yourself, then extend the sense of loving kindness to a 2) mentor or benefactor; then to a 3) neutral person, next to a 4) slightly difficult person (gradually working up to more difficult persons or situations), and then expanding loving kindness to include 5) all beings, everywhere. Repeat these phrases gently and softly to yourself; focus attention on the phrases, extending the felt sense of love and friendliness. Salzberg (2011) suggests, “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.”
When the mind wanders, bring attention back to the phrases (gently, but firmly). The wandering mind (i.e., thoughts taking control of attention) is natural and normal. Simply meet whatever is in the present moment with openness, kindness, and gentleness, then move to the next phrase.
At times we may choose to mindfully explore more difficult mind body phenomena that may arise (i.e., body sensations, thoughts, and emotions). You may notice attachment or clinging to these phenomena. Loving kindness opens the heart to be with these objects, paying close attention to them until they subside. Hold a sense of compassion for yourself. Here loving kindness practice is combine with mindfulness. When you feel ready, return to the loving kindness practice.
Joseph Goldstein reminds us that, the practice is done without expectations of anything in return for; loving kindness does not seek self-benefits; even Loving Kindness directed toward one’s self is “simply the gateway to an open heart.” (Mindfulness, 2013, p. 354).
Loving Kindness – Practice in Everyday Activities
We can practice loving kindness during our everyday activities. Here are a few examples:
- To nourish loving kindness look for the good in someone
- Bring to mind someone/something that makes you feel happy inside
- When walking down the street, wish each person you see – “be happy, be well.”
- The Dali Lama – “When you have a few minutes, practice one or more of the phrases throughout the day; and “I’ve never met anyone I consider a stranger.
Loving Kindness Develops Compassion
Being compassionate is not about being weak or passive or being overcome by suffering. On the contrary, it allows us to acknowledge and open to the suffering, and to act to reduce the suffering. Steps in developing compassion include 1) being able to acknowledge the suffering of self or another, 2) opening to the pain or suffering – developing a relationship to the suffering, 3) allowing compassion to arise with a quality of equanimity; 4) gaining a sense of another’s experience of suffering (empathy), 5) looking at the full “picture” – considering the context and conditions that caused the suffering, and 6) responding to the pain or suffering with wisdom.
In brief, we are developing unconditional friendliness or kindness to all beings, including ourselves. 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,” Salzberg (Loving Kindness: The Revolution of Happiness. 1995). Salzberg says, “We’re purifying and transforming our relationship to suffering – others’ and our own.”
Compassion is deepened through the practice of Loving Kindness; it is identifying the suffering of others as one’s own and then moves us toward appropriate thoughts, speech, and actions. Loving Kindness is not just about creating good feelings, which at times this can be beneficial in and of itself; Loving kindness, more importantly, serves an invitation to identify and turn towards uncomfortable experiences. This turning towards the suffering invites mindfulness, which allows us to let go of the suffering.
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. The role of Loving Kindness involves this trembling of the heart, this “knowing” that there is “suffering.” Then we can turn toward this experience, exploring it with mindfulness and mindful reflections. This leads to appropriate or wise action to relieve the suffering. This practice is not a “papering over” of the actual feelings or experience of suffering, rather we are acknowledging that this suffering exists and look deeply into it. In short, Loving Kindness opens our heart, developing compassion which recognizes there is suffering, empathy connects us with the suffering of others or one’s self, and we are moved to appropriate speech, action, and the way we live, addressing that suffering.
Summary: Mindfulness, Loving Kindness, and Compassion
Mindfulness supports loving kindness and compassion; they work together, enabling us to acknowledge suffering, to open to and be present with suffering, to offer friendliness (love), and to take action to reduce the suffering, acting from a place of 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 with empathy and compassion. For more information on Mindfulness, Loving Kindness and Compassion visit www.goamra.org – the American Mindfulness Research Association and Loving Kindness by Sharon Salzberg – www.sharonsalzberg.com/blog/ )
Practice opportunities provided by the Loran Smith Center
The Mindfulness Practice Group – meets every second Friday of the month from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. These mindfulness meditation sessions are free and open to the public – Just interested in learning more about mindfulness practices, beginners, and those with established practices, all are welcome. For questions or more information please contact Mike Healy – firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-248-8918. Free parking. No pre-registration.
Mindfulness Dedicated Practitioners Group meets at the Healing Lodge every Saturday from 8:30-9:30 a.m. All are welcome-just drop-in. For questions or more information please contact Jasey Jones – email@example.com. Free parking; no pre-registration.
Where we meet – the practice groups and the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction workshop meet in the Healing Lodge, Piedmont Athens Regional, 240 Talmadge Dr., Athens, GA 30606
The Mindfulness Practice Group and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction workshop are led by Mike Healy, (Mindful Living Center), who is certified to teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction by the University of Massachusetts, Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare and Society. He has taught mindfulness since 1999. He is also certified to teach Yoga (RYT 200) since 2011.