We Could All Use Some Kindness Right About Now
Practicing lovingkindness can make us happier, healthier and more compassionate.
Posted Jul 08, 2020
In a world that tells us all too often that we’re not doing enough, blames the victim, cancels a person for making mistakes, and stigmatizes vulnerability, it’s easy to become disillusioned.
Particularly in 2020, as we navigate a global pandemic, engage in advocacy and activism for racial and social justice, and make sense of a chaotic political landscape, mindfulness and self-compassion are some of the most precious inner resources we can harness.
It takes a great deal of resilience to live in our current climate and still see the good in humanity. One way we can cultivate this resilience is by intentionally deepening our compassion for ourselves and others through a lovingkindness practice.
Research demonstrates that practicing mindfulness, lovingkindness, and self-compassion improves our life satisfaction, relationships, physical and mental health, motivation, and ability to perspective-take. It also makes us more optimistic and more resilient in the face of life’s traumas and stressors.
Lovingkindness meditation is a traditionally Buddhist meditation concept popularized by Kristin Neff, and as a clinical psychologist and an empath, it's easily one of my favorite practices. This practice allows us to send energy and love to ourselves and other people simply by focusing our awareness. It has made me much more patient, understanding, and forgiving not only to the people around me but to myself.
I first discovered lovingkindness at a time of unrest in my own life. I was entering a new phase of life, and saying a lot of goodbyes in the process. I was sad to know that the closeness I had cultivated in my dearest relationships was about to change and fearful about what the future would hold. I was judging myself for past mistakes and dwelling in regret.
Through lovingkindness meditation, I learned it was possible to offer compassion to my younger self and to my adult self, to wish myself well even when my inner critic told me I didn’t deserve these wishes.
I also learned the value of staying emotionally invested in relationships, even when they changed. I discovered that I didn’t have to be geographically close to someone to feel close to them. I learned it was even possible to feel close to someone who isn’t alive any longer.
One of the challenging aspects of my job is that I often don’t know what happens to my clients once we conclude therapy and part ways. To this day, I regularly pause to reflect on my past clients and send them lovingkindness, wherever they might be in the world.
No matter who you are or where you live, everyone has the capacity to experience the peace and comfort of sending out lovingkindness on a regular basis. It can feel strange at first if you’re not used to speaking about yourself or others with such empathy, but if you continue to practice this meditation, over time you may find yourself naturally more equipped to tap into feelings of kindness.
So sit back, get comfortable, and read through the following guide. You may wish to pause between each paragraph, close your eyes, and really let these words sink in. You may also want to ask a friend or your therapist to read it aloud to you so you can keep your eyes closed and really focus on the prompts.
First, close your eyes and bring to mind an image that is warming and comforting, like a bright ray of sunshine beaming through an open window. Imagine that this image contains all of the well wishes in the world.
Imagine that this open window is coming from your chest, where your heart is beating. Picture the warm, yellow ray of sunshine beaming outward from the window, out into the world.
Now, bring to mind someone you love. It can be a family member, partner, friend, or pet. Picture their face, their expressions, what they might be wearing.
Visualize yourself sending this ray of light from yourself to shine upon this person, while you repeat the set of phrases below. (Note: If these phrases don’t resonate for you, come up with your own expressions for sending positive energy and love to this person.)
I appreciate your life.
I wish you a life of meaning and purpose.
May you be free from suffering.
May you feel peace.
Notice any sensations of softening or openness in your heart area as you focus on sending warmth to this person. Imagine that at this very moment, the recipient of your warmth is feeling comforted, like they’re receiving a soothing hug or feeling the energy of sunshine on their face.
Now, turn your attention toward yourself. Breathe deeply as you offer yourself compassion through repeating these phrases.
I appreciate my life.
I appreciate the care and kindness I give to myself and others.
May I live a life of meaning and purpose.
May I be free from suffering.
May I feel peace.
When you feel ready, you may return to the sights, sounds, and sensations of the room around you. Know that you can return to this space of openness and loving-kindness at any time, for as long as you wish.
Repeat these messages for several minutes, sending lovingkindness and warm wishes to as many people as you’d like. You can send your wishes to people you don’t know very well, people who have harmed you, or entire groups of people anywhere in the world.
I recommend starting with someone who is very easy for you to offer love to and then working your way up to people who might be harder to think about in a compassionate way.
The beauty of lovingkindness meditation is that it can be done as often as you’d like, for as long as you’d like. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. The cues I've written above are meant to guide you, but please modify them to be authentic to you.
Many people find this practice helpful in forgiving themselves for past mistakes and forgiving others for hurts they have caused. It’s important to allow yourself to use it in a way that works for you, without forcing yourself to offer this sentiment to anyone.
I hope this practice helps you treat yourself and others with the care and kindness we all deserve.
Note: The script above is my own original work, based on concepts researched by Kristin Neff.