How to Heal Your World Through Meditation

Use this practice to foster loving kindness for yourself and others.

Posted May 31, 2020

ant/Adobe Stock
Source: ant/Adobe Stock

More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have lost their lives to COVID-19. The virus itself and the quarantine to limit its spread have caused unfathomable suffering, as millions have lost their jobs and may kids don't have enough to eat

And then George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis. Protests ensued, along with riots and more violence and suffering. Each morning we wake up to see the latest news from protests in cities across America, including in nearby Philadelphia and my home state of Indiana. 

What can any of us do in the face of so much conflict and pain? 

We can work toward a more just world, of course, and vote for those we believe will lead with fairness and integrity. But nothing will change your world more than the state of your heart. Every action you could take pales in comparison to the spirit in which you take it. 

Recent studies confirm what wisdom traditions have known for millennia: We can create a more kind and loving world through meditation. In particular, a practice known as "metta meditation" has been shown to increase compassion, both for oneself and for others. 

There are many ways to practice metta meditation (also known as "loving kindness meditation"). Here is one way to get started. (A brief guided version of this practice is available here.)

Loving Kindness Meditation

Sit comfortably and allow your eyes to close. Let your hands rest in your lap, or join your palms in front of your heart. Make it a prayer if you like.

Take a few calming breaths, allowing your mind to settle and your attention to alight on the present. Gently notice any physical sensations, like the breath as it moves in and out and the feeling of your body pressing into your seat.

Bring to mind someone in your life from whom you've felt a pure love. It could be a parent or other caregiver, a spiritual figure, or even a pet. With each breath you take, feel the love from that person as a warm glow. Sense the care and concern that flow from this person, and their sincere wish for you to be happy and whole. 

Self

From that glow of loving kindness, send wishes for happiness and well-being to yourself. Imagine them coming from one who dearly loves you, if that's helpful. Take a breath in, and as you exhale silently say to yourself, May I be safe. Inhale again, and as you breathe out say, May I know peace. Repeat this process as you say, May I find ease. And finally, May I be free from suffering.

You can use these statements, or any that feel right for you. The specific words are less important than the spirit in which you offer them. Repeat as many times as you like.

An Easy Relationship 

Next, bring to mind someone you find easy to love. It could be your child, a sibling, a pet—someone with whom you enjoy a relatively easy relationship. With each breath you take, silently send one of these wishes to this individual:

May you be safe.

May you know peace.

May you find ease.

May you be free from suffering. 

You can end the practice here, or continue on if you like.

A More Complicated Relationship

Now bring to mind someone for whom you have more mixed feelings. Choose someone you clearly love but may find challenging at times—for example, a partner, adult child, or difficult sibling. Extend the glow of loving kindness toward this person, with the same wishes:

May you be safe.

May you know peace.

May you find ease.

May you be free from suffering.

An Acquaintance

If you'd like to continue the practice, bring to mind someone you run into from time to time but whom you don't have a personal relationship with—for example, a checkout person at the grocery store or a neighbor you've never talked to. Allow genuine wishes for well-being to include this person: 

May you be safe.

May you know peace.

May you find ease.

May you be free from suffering.

An Adversary

The most difficult type of person to extend loving kindness toward is someone you consider your enemy (though many people find self-directed loving kindness to be quite hard, too). This might be someone who has hurt you in the past, a politician you find repugnant, or those with opposing political views, among others.

If you're up for it, include such a person in your well wishes. This is entirely up to you, of course—no parts of this practice are compulsory. But if you want to send loving kindness to an adversary, it may help to remember that they were once a baby, and that one day they will take their last breath on this earth. Like you they eat, sleep, have people they love, and have good days and bad ones. And like you, the universe makes space for them, just as they are.

See what it's like to wish the best for this person—without necessarily liking them, or wanting to spend time with them, or letting go of the pain they may have caused you. What is it like to wish them a life without suffering as you send them these words?

May you be safe.

May you know peace.

May you find ease.

May you be free from suffering.

All of Us

Finally, let the sphere of loving kindness envelope all the world—those in your closest orbits, those far away, people you like and don't like, those you've never met. Include yourself in these wishes:

May we be safe.

May we know peace.

May we find ease.

May we be free from suffering.

The year before he died, Tom Petty, my favorite singer and songwriter, introduced a song about forgiveness with the words, "The world needs a little kindness right now." That's more true now than ever. The world we wish to create begins with each of us. While I probably don't know you, I'm sending you wishes for all good things:

May you be safe.

May you know peace.

May you find ease.

May you be free from suffering.

References

Galante, J., Galante, I., Bekkers, M. J., & Gallacher, J. (2014). Effect of kindness-based meditation on health and well-being: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82, 1101-1114.

Zeng, X., Chiu, C. P., Wang, R., Oei, T. P., & Leung, F. Y. (2015). The effect of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions: A meta-analytic review. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1693.