How a Simple Loving-Kindness Meditation Can Transform Your Life

loving-kindness-meditationBy Mary Jaksch

Do you want to change?

Do you maybe want to become happy, wise, peaceful, or simply – a better person?

When you look deeply into your desire for change, you may find something uncomfortable at the bottom – a lack of self-love and self-acceptance.

In ancient teachings reaching right back to the time of the Buddha, we can find ways to cultivate loving-kindness toward ourselves and others.

Here’s the good news:

Each one of us has the capacity for boundless love and kindness.

That’s why it can’t be given or acquired.

We’re like water. Water can’t become any wetter, because being wet is not something apart from water.

In the same way, love and kindness are not attributes that we can add to our being. Our true self is loving and kind at its core.

Zen Master John Tarrant says :
If you are busy thinking you should be kind, you might miss the reality that kindness is already present. In you.

“Ok then,” – you might want to ask – “if that’s the case, why am I often grumpy and struggle to feel kindness in my heart?”

The answer is simple: our capacity for boundless love and kindness is buried deep within. So deep, that we sometimes can’t feel it at all. It’s as if the heart goes numb.

There is a way to uncover the natural radiance of your heart.

It won’t happen all at once, though.

Think of the process like a bud opening. At first it’s closed and you can’t even see what it will become. Then – little by little – the bud begins to unfurl and finally the flower appears in all its beauty.

You can’t hurry up the process. You can’t bend the petals of a bud outwards in order to make it flower sooner. Well, maybe you can, but the bud will be ruined.

Can YOU feel deeply – or is your heart numb?

It can happen to all of us that our heart goes numb. At such times, even if we know that we love others, or that we love life – we can’t quite feel it. It’s like looking out over a landscape on a misty day. You can sense the outlines, but clarity is missing.

If your heart is asleep, you feel numb. It’s like watching life through a glass pane.

Children can show us what it’s like for the heart to be awake.

A few days ago I was in a parking lot at a supermarket. There was a truck beside me with two young girls in it, waiting for their mother. In the front was a little five-year old redhead. Suddenly the little red-head leaned out of the window. She was so excited, her whole body wriggled.

“I can see her,” she shouted to her older sister on the back seat , “I can see Mummy!”

When was the last time you loved like that – so deeply, so keenly?

Sometimes the only time we feel love so deeply as adults, is when we first fall in love – or when we lose someone we love.

Why does the heart go numb?

Numbness of the heart is a natural protection from pain. Every time we have a painful experience, we tend to grow a protective layer around our heart. The awful thing is that this protective layer doesn’t just shield us from pain, it numbs all emotions.

There is a way we try to rationalize our numb heart. Maybe we think, “I’m a realist, not a romantic”, or “I don’t like all that lovey-dovey stuff,” or, “I’d rather not get hurt.” Or we respond to others or ourselves in a sarcastic, cutting or snide way. These are all signs of a numb heart.

How can the heart awaken?

There is a natural way of awakening the heart that we all know about. It’s falling in love. Ask any one who is freshly in love, and they will rave about how wonderful the person they love is. And how beautiful the world is. How bright the colors are, and how unique and wonderful every human being is.

But there is a problem … the euphoria doesn’t last.

Luckily, there is another way of awakening the heart. A way that lasts. And that is through loving-kindness practice.

What loving-kindness does is to ease away the protective layers around the heart. The practice of loving-kindness (or Metta) allows love to transform us.

What holds us back from the transformation of love is fear. The English psychoanalyst John McMurray spoke of people being either ‘fear-determined’ or ‘love-determined’:

There are two…emotional attitudes through which human life can be radically determined. They are love and fear. The fear-determined have no sun in themselves and go about putting out the sun in other people. Whereas the love-determined have life in them, abundant life. They are the people who are really alive, of whom it can be said that they possess eternal life as a well within them perpetually springing.

Is your life determined by love or by fear?

As John McMurray says, “the fear-determined … go about putting out the sun in other people.”

What does he mean by, “Putting out the sun in other peope”?

It’s when we focus on other people’s faults and weaknesses. It’s when we put others down, when we use snide or sarcastic comments in order to put out their light.

If you are ruled by fear, you not only go about putting out the light of others, you also extinguish your own light.

Here are the thoughts that put out your own sun:

“No use trying!”, “I’m hopeless at that!”, “I’ll never learn!”, “This is too difficult!”

Each time you play these negative tapes, you extinguish your light, and negate your potential. And when you look at others and their perceived talent and success, you may feel envy – which is really a wish to extinguish the light of others.

How can we move from fear towards love?

The key is intimacy

We move from fear towards love when we start to connect deeply with ourselves.

What does that mean?

It means being present to our experience of the moment. Whether we experience joy, or anguish, or restlessness, or fear, or anger – if we shine the soft light of awareness on our experience, we are no longer separate from ourselves.

What is the natural state of the heart?

Imagine that you release your heart from all the protective layers. What do you find at the core?

What you find is that the heart is joyful, radiant, and boundless. Our natural way of being is a state of intimate connection with all beings.

Maybe you feel worlds away from such an experience?

It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because we are all on a path. All that counts is that everything we do moves us closer to our aspirations. On the spiritual path there is no fast or slow. There are no big or small steps. All you need to do is to practice loving-kindness – and little by little, your radiant heart will shine through.

How to uncover the radiant heart within.

You can uncover the radiant heart by practicing loving-kindness, or metta meditation. This meditation was taught by the Buddha as an antidote to fear. It’s the practice of cherishing the goodness in us, as well as in others. Thich Nhat Hanh translates the term loving-kindness or metta as “the intention and capacity to offer joy and happiness.”

The most important point here is that you need to start with yourself. You need to offer yourself loving-kindness.  It’s the foundation of loving-kindness practice.

Here is a simple loving-kindness meditation. It can slowly strip away the layers of protection, and reveal the radiant heart at the core of your being.

As you breathe in – cherish yourself
As you breathe out – cherish all beings

At first, you may find it difficult to cherish yourself. Sometimes, we can be our worst enemy. It may even seem selfish to cherish yourself.

However, when you say, ‘May I be at ease?’ – who is the one you are cherishing?

Is the “I” you dedicate your loving-kindness to …  just this bag of skin?

The magic of loving-kindness is that as you go deeper into the practice, you find that this ‘I’, this self – is without boundary.

The self includes mountains, rivers, wasps, hedgehogs, the warmth of the summer sun, the sharp winter wind, those close, and those far away. This ‘I’, this self, contains the whole universe.

As you breathe in – cherish yourself
As you breathe out – cherish all beings

You can either practice this during seated meditation, or you can pull out this meditation at odd moments during the day.

Here is a story that shows how to cherish something or someone completely. It’s from Maurice Sendak, the author the magical children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are.

Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it.

I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.”

Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.”

That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”

- Maurice Sendak

See. Love. Eat.

This little boy knew how to cherish completely.

Loving-kindness practice is simple. But it can transform the way you experience life.

As your heart’s capacity for love and kindness grows, you’ll find a great fullness of being, discover a warm kinship with all beings, and reveal the radiant heart within.

What happens when you try this meditation? Please share in the comments.

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  1. Kay says:

    What a happy meditation to find today, an old friend, half-forgotten in a new life and a long struggle, so glad to be cherishing again, thank you!

  2. Brandon Dean says:

    Love and kindness is something I make a point to practice during the day!

  3. Helen Graves says:

    Love the Maurice Sendak story. How often we hold back from giving ourselves completely to an experience, a feeling – all because of fear. And the irony is, when we do that, we’ve given ourselves completely to the fear.

    Thanks for the loving reminder to live and love ourselves, each other and every experience.

  4. Lee says:

    Clear, simple, and beautiful. Thank you!

  5. joe says:

    Fear is crippling, but you can’t let those sun-stealers ruin your life. Try to flip them !

  6. Bobbi Emel says:

    Mary, I recently attended a workshop with Kristin Neff who is a pioneering researcher in the field of self-compassion. In order to teach us compassion for ourselves, she had to show us how easy it was to have compassion for others. She pointed out that, in our culture, it is so unnatural for us to feel self-compassion that we had to “warm up” to it by first exercising compassion and kindness toward someone else.

    I’m glad this conversation about loving-kindness is happening more often.
    Bobbi Emel´s last blog post ..Try NOT to think about this: Why stuffing your problems doesn’t work

  7. Bill Polm says:

    Lovely advice, Mary. And so true.
    Fear is an enemy, and we too often its unwitting accomplice.
    Bill Polm´s last blog post ..Is your blog writing working for you?

  8. Glori says:

    I find this post very profound. I am not much for meditation, but what you say here is something that I am struggling with.
    Life problems can truly make us feel numb, and truly make us feel empty too. There are times when I just simply shut myself out because I get tired of the constant disappointments I encounter in life. I become indifferent and I start not to care anymore. I just simply let things happen.
    It’s not a good way to live, but i feel if I start caring again, people will once again take advantage of me.
    Its a struggle, and I know this is no way to live a full life. So thank you for giving me something that may help.
    Glori´s last blog post ..10 Introvert Quotes to Get You Thinking… and Smiling

  9. Mary,

    How beautifully articulated. I love the various analogies you use throughout this article. The whole idea of putting the sun out for someone else is so sad!

    Loving-kindness is one of my favorite practices. Naturally, it can bring up so much within us as many of us have lost our natural capacity to love ourselves and extend that love to others. But when the bud of our heart begins to blossom, the whole feeling of our world changes. This is a simple but profound way to change our self, find more happiness, and bring more happiness to others around us and at a distance too.
    Sandra / Always Well Within´s last blog post ..The Power of Living From Your Vows

  10. Tim says:

    Thank you Mary, just what I needed. Tim, nelson

  11. thank you Mary for your wonderful thoughts and writing… I cannot stop but envy you so much, for your happiness, peace, clarity of mind and the wonderful work you are doing!!!
    It is so clear “when you speak”, I understand and cherish all the good words you write, they are so soothing!!! That is the stage I aim to be in; in control of life and living it to the full of my capacity, as a humanbeing.
    Nevertheless I have this stress that does not let me “unfold”… there is always something… family related matters (since as a child), problems of my own, my own family now, security, health, money issues, work, society matters… all that wrapped up!!! Still, I feel since October/November last, after some search related to health issues I came across Natural News, and since them (that is how I became acquanted with your work by the way), oh my God!!! My life has changed completelly… I know I am now in the right track… even though, right now, I am obcessed with finding a job that would give me “my bread”… and that is very much putting me down… in the last year all I had is very precarious work… is kind of I don´t know what else to do about it or where to start looking for!!! I feel I am stuck… and that is not a good feeling… it has been preventing me doing things with my family and for my family… so… wish me luck please… and thank you once more for being you and for being there!!! best wishes :))

  12. Glynis Jolly says:

    I appreciate the detailed instructions you give. So often people have good ideas that they want to share but only give a shallow description. You have do much more than that. Thank you.
    Glynis Jolly´s last blog post ..A Few Concepts To Help With Confidence

  13. Absolutely gorgeous post, Mary. I know that this will have a ripple effect, a bit like random acts of kindness & the world will be a better place because of your beautiful wisdom.
    I can’t wait to practice loving kindness!
    Claire
    Claire Kerslake´s last blog post ..Your Quick and Easy Guide to the HBA1C Test

  14. Thanks Mary for this wonderful post.
    When I first started my business, I was looking for all the love/kindness/courtesy from outside- like clients and Services providers. I used to get hurt, when some one was mean. Then over the course of time, I started practicing unconditional love and acceptance for myself. It felt weird initially, but as time passed, it is one of the best things that changed my life and business.
    The meditation technique suggested by you is an excellent tool!

  15. […] secret to a positive future is creating goodness in thoughts, words, and deeds in the here and now.  It’s not about hankering after something […]

  16. I loved your post and it came at just the right time. I especially loved this line, “If you are ruled by fear, you not only go about putting out the light of others, you also extinguish your own light.” Thank you!!
    Lisa Frederiksen – BreakingTheCycles.com´s last blog post ..Mental Health Awareness Month – the Impacts of Childhood Trauma

  17. Ah, I know very well the numbness in the heart. thanks for sharing how to get over that… it’s not a great feeling
    noch noch
    Noch Noch | be me. be natural.´s last blog post ..for me the bells toll – taking a break, getting married

  18. Ben says:

    That meditation sounds interesting, I do a similar thing with Sedona Method, letting go of disapproval of myself and giving myself approval. My ‘meditation’ lately is going for a walk listening to Zpoint and appreciating being outside, the trees, water, everything.

    I believe another important step of uncovering this love is to let go of the past experiences that causes the barriers to be put up, that is definately an important part of it.

    -Ben
    Ben´s last blog post ..LETTING GO OF YOUR RESISTANCE AND FEARS TO MAKE EVEN MORE POWERFUL AND CONSISTENT CHANGES!

  19. Rose Byrd says:

    Breathing in while cherishing myself, breathing out while cherishing all others: Such a fabulous way to start each day–and continue as I take each step to start my morning walk! Blessings on you, friend Mary!
    Rose Byrd´s last blog post ..“……and we so hungry now are full”

  20. Aly Noland says:

    Great post! I find myself in a chicken or an egg problem… must you first love yourself in order to love others or does practicing uncomplicated love toward others help you to love yourself more purely and uncomplicatedly (not a word!). Perhaps there’s a little of both in there. Like breathing in and out. You must first breathe in in order to have the air to breathe out, but you also have to breathe out so that your lungs are empty to once again breathe in. The total definition of it being a ‘practice’… or a journey, not a destination!
    Aly Noland´s last blog post ..The time I got dumped via ICQ.

  21. […] how it relates to letting go of your perfectionism and in particular, I came across a blog today: how a simple loving-kindness meditation can transform your life, which describes how we all have the capacity for boundless love and kindness and that we need to […]

  22. Wilson says:

    Wonderful. The key to peace is inside us, not outside.

    -Wilson
    (zen blog: http://www.lightinthemadness.com)
    Wilson´s last blog post ..Mindfulness Techniques

  23. Anne Scott says:

    I shared your Wild Things story with my two kids. Great fun all around. Metta is a wonderful practice, whether alone or together!

  24. Jesstine says:

    I love reading this kind of articles it helps a lot of individuals including me.

    But the most important here is in your hand on how you can handle difficult situation.

    Again I love your article. :)

    Good Job

  25. jared akers says:

    The loving-kindness exercise is fantastic, something I was just introduced to through a book sent to me for review. The book is Search Inside Yourself by by Daniel Goleman, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Chade-Meng Tan. The book (which is mostly about emotional intelligence and how it can benefit not only ourselves, but ultimately our work and business), uses an adaptation of the loving-kindness exercise but precedes it with what the author calls, “Just Like Me.” I think it does a good job of setting the stage for this loving-kindness mindset. Particularly towards a specific individual we may harbor resentments towards. As you mentioned in this article, this exercise and meditation can absolutely change your life. I’ve had similar results with prayer (praying for others or something/one I resented, etc. for long – weeks months, etc. – periods of times) but this would certainly have amazing results.

    The below is pulled directly from the book:

    Sit in a comfortable position that allows you to be alert and relaxed at the same time. Start with 2 minutes to rest the mind on the breath. Bring to mind somebody you care about. Visualize him or her. If you wish, you may use a photograph or video of that person.

    Just Like Me

    Now, read the script below slowly to yourself, pausing at the end of each sentence for reflection:

    This person has a body and a mind, just like me.
    This person has feelings, emotions, and thoughts, just like me.
    This person has, at some point in his or her life, been sad, disappointed, angry, hurt, or confused, just like me.
    This person has, in his or her life, experienced physical and emotional pain and suffering, just like me.
    This person wishes to be free from pain and suffering, just like me.
    This person wishes to be healthy and loved, and to have fulfilling relationships, just like me.
    This person wishes to be happy, just like me.

    Loving Kindness

    Now let’s allow some wishes to arise.

    I wish for this person to have the strength, the resources, and the emotional and social support to navigate the difficulties in life.
    I wish for this person to be free from pain and suffering.
    I wish for this person to be happy. Because this person is a fellow human being, just like me.
    (Pause)
    Now, I wish for everybody I know to be happy.
    (Long pause)
    End with 1 minute of resting the mind.
    jared akers´s last blog post ..015: 5 Keys to a Healthy Relationship

  26. aguire says:

    i have found how to practice love today

  27. […] Mary’s blog: Good Life Zen Favorite post: How a Simple Loving-Kindness Meditation can Transform your Life […]

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