When you feel like you are having a hard time expressing emotions to your loved ones or compassion towards yourself and others, this can be an indication of blocked emotional energy.
One of the most inspiring aspects of the Buddhist tradition is its development of various practices that can help us nourish the soul and strengthen the heart.
Loving kindness (Pali term metta) is a meditation practice taught by Buddha to develop the mental habit of selflessness, which gives rise to positive change and healthy emotional energy flow.
As an act of self-therapy, loving kindness uses your inner resources as a way to deal with difficult emotional states in high pressure times when feelings of anger or hurt are usually more present.
Loving-kindness does not remove negative emotions but helps cultivate enthusiasm and purify the mind in times where positive emotions are needed to add strength.
The positive expression of empathy is an appreciation of other people’s good qualities rather than feelings of jealousy. In Tibetan schools of meditation, the practice of tonglen signifies ‘giving and receiving.’
To develop your compassion and your ability to be present for our own suffering and the suffering of others, tonglen is an exercise of bravery and no fear. In meditation, one visualizes taking in the suffering of oneself and of others on the in-breath, and on the out-breath giving recognition, compassion, and succor to all sentient beings.
While heavily based on the Six Perfections, loving kindness meditation is the foundation of the Tibetan practice of tonglen.
The purpose of loving kindness meditation is to produce and strengthen feelings of:
- Loving Kindness
- Compassion (empathizing with others’ suffering)
- Appreciative Joy
- Equanimity (patient acceptance of both joy and suffering)
In practice, loving kindness meditation begins with cultivating positive feelings towards yourself before expanding outward to those who are closest to you and eventually extending your love and acceptance to encapsulate life as a whole.
Ways to Cultivate Feelings of Loving Kindness
Visualization – Use positive memories associated with feelings of happiness. Bring up a mental picture and try to feel as it was real. See yourself or others experiencing pure joy.
Repetition – Use a mantra or phrase that symbolizes love and happiness. Repeat this word, sound, or phrase internally or out loud until you can generate a strong sense of positive energy.
Creative Reflection – Use your imagination to bring up cues of positive qualities in your environment and in your visions. Amplify the smallest details into feelings of love and joy by bringing them to life. Get carried away in imagination and majestic thought and allow your senses to be at play as much as possible.
Loving Kindness Meditation
Take a comfortable, relaxed posture. Breathe slowly and deeply into your chest. Use this consistent sequence of breathing as your anchor point, and take a couple of minutes to get a sense of your body.
Focus on your heart and chest area. The energy of your heart merges with your breath. Become aware of your emotions — just observe and allow the energy of your emotions to flow freely without any expectation. Release all judgment.
Now, with the intention of cultivating loving kindness towards yourself, use visualization, repetition of a mantra, or creative thought to wish yourself well. Feel your energy being filled with joy.
After 10 minutes, move on to a family member, a friend, neighbor, mentor, teacher or anyone close to you. Internally express loving kindness towards them with heartfelt meaning. Breathe it in and out and sit with this for a few minutes.
Move on to a neutral person or group of people. Most people that we come in contact with are in this category. Open yourself up to make contact with the people that you have no real feelings for.
Become aware that even the people that we ignore and fail to connect with are dealing with different aspects of pain and suffering. Bring your intention to expressing this compassion internally and outward into your environment.
After a few minutes of breathing and generating compassion, you can move on towards a more difficult person. This may be someone you are irritated with, or there may be a more negative rooted connection.
This stage of meditation is to simply call to mind someone that we have difficulties with and to wish them well with intended meaning and release of any judgment.
While harnessing an aroused feeling of loving kindness, you can now expand your energy outward and beyond. This final stage of meditation is an emanation of compassion, joy, and love towards all living things, all of nature and life as a whole.
Sit with this all encompassing vibration for however long you can harness this energy. Take a few deep breaths; remain grateful for this moment.
As your practice of loving kindness matures, these healthy feelings of love and compassion will spontaneously become apart of your psyche and your all around approach to life.
Ironically, developing an abundant resource of these softer emotions will provide you with an amazing amount of power, strength, and mental resilience. This ability to carry love and experience empathy will become essential in cultivating strong relationships, dealing with adversity, and overcoming challenges.