One of the most valuable skills my old guru taught is Lovingkindness Meditation. He said that for the best benefit, it is best to practice it daily. This type of meditation has found its way into a segment of popular culture. I can only hope that it spreads into society even more.
Specifically, the Lovingkindness meditator sits quietly and contemplates her/his own concerns and worries for about a minute or so. Then the meditator consciously contemplates the concerns and worries of family members and close friends for another minute or so. At the end of each minute silently repeat the words, “May you feel safe; may you feel happy; may you feel healthy; may you live with ease.” (You may want to write those words on a card to help you memorize them.)
Next, the meditator contemplates the concerns and worries about casual acquaintances and neighbors. This contemplation is extended to include people in your own town, then state or province, next your entire nation, then another minute or two to every person on Earth. After each phase outward, the meditator silently thinks, “May you feel safe; may you feel happy; may you feel healthy; may you live with ease.”
It is helpful to practice Lovingkindness Meditation in the quiet and comfort of one’s own home. Doing so on a regular schedule helps ingrain it as a habit. When cultivating this habit, my old teacher taught that it will be extremely helpful when one becomes caught up in stressful situations.
For instance, when waiting in a long queue at the supermarket checkout lane, we can pause and pay attention to the other people also waiting in lines in the store. We will notice that everybody else is also feeling tension about waiting. This is practical, real-world practice of Lovingkindness Meditation.
There are positive emotional and physiological benefits that result from having kind thoughts towards others. When we feel compassion and warmth, our breathing is more calm, and our heart-rate variability slows to more healthy levels. So kind thoughts are good for us.
There is an extension of Lovingkindness Meditation that can be practiced. This is especially profound when you are out and about in public around many people or waiting in traffic. That is to remember that practically everybody present, including oneself, will be dead in about 100-years.
I remembered to do this extension last Friday as I waited in a long line of vehicles at a railroad crossing for a very long train that was moving slowly down the tracks. Because the railroad crossing is in a residential neighborhood, I looked around at the houses and at a large brick school building. There were people walking on sidewalks, children playing in the park across the street from the school. People sitting in cars, trucks, SUVs, and minivans. Everyone was caught up in their own lives and thoughts. Every one of them and myself would not be alive in approximately a century.
Most of us won’t even be fond daily memories of the next generations. This is an ultimate reality check. Knowing this profound truth makes Lovingkindness Meditation especially beautiful. Knowing that everybody we meet today will not always be here gives meaning to the understanding, care, and kindness we extend to them. When this becomes habitual and with no thought of any reward for doing so, one’s life will never be the same again.
The wisdom about kindliness is as old as the hills. The ancient Roman philosopher Lucius Annaus Seneca advised, “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.”
My old guru had a similar saying, “Whenever you have a few minutes, there is an opportunity for Lovingkindness.”