Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the busyness of life? In the latest episode of Compass: Finding spirituality in the everyday, Ryan Dunn invites listeners to disrupt their busyness through loving-kindness meditation. The episode features a discussion on the benefits of loving-kindness meditation on mental well-being and relationships.
Here are three key takeaways from the episode: - Practicing loving kindness towards oneself and others can have a positive impact on mental well-being and relationships. - The practice of loving kindness can extend beyond our close circle to include neutral people, acquaintances, and even those who cause stress or pain. - Cultivating a heart of loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity can lead to positive effects on well-being, empathy, and compassion.
In this episode:
(00:00) Finding the spiritual in the everyday
(01:46) Introduction to Loving-Kindness Meditation
(03:53) History of Loving-Kindness Meditation
(06:46) Step one: get comfortable
(06:58) Step two: Set your intention
(07:25) Step three: Focus on love in your life
(09:31) Step four: Focusing on loved ones
(10:27) Step five: Focus on those outside your circle
(11:01) Step six: Focus on adversaries
(11:41) Step seven: Radiate love to all beings
(12:23) Step eight: Closing and reflection
- Using your imagination in prayer
- Meditative practice for daily disruptions
- Disrupting your anxiety through spiritual practices
- Powerful peace and contemplative prayer
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This episode posted on June 28, 2023
This is the Compass Podcast where we find the spiritual in the everyday.
My name is Ryan Dunn. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Are you feeling that, too? Chances are, no matter when you’re listening to this episode of Compass, that you are feeling a bit time crunched. That’s how we roll in this era.
Sometimes, these feelings come about because our schedules really are, truly, jam-packed. Sometimes, the feelings come because of a frame of mind… we feel crunched because we’ve made an assumption that we are. In any case, it pays to disrupt this cycle of time anxiety and to practice some deliberation. And the practice we’re going to talk about today is one that is full of energizing connection. So no matter if our tight schedules are due to reality or perception, this practice provides a sense of connectedness, refreshment, strength and confidence for facing our day-to-day challenges.
We love to provide these spiritually contemplative practices from time-to-time on Compass. In the past, we’ve practiced the Welcoming Prayer, Centering Prayer, we have resources available on Breath Prayer. And in this episode we’ll talk about the Loving-Kindness meditation.
Before we get into that, I want to invite you to help out the Compass Podcast… and you can do that dropping a rating and review of the Podcast. So, if our spiritual practices are helpful, if our inspiring stories are helpful, or if our always-insightful interviews and recommendations are helpful for your spiritual journey, then share that on your podcast listening platform. Thanks much!
OK… let’s get to the business at hand: the Loving-Kindness Meditation. Loving-kindness meditation, also known as metta meditation, is a practice that cultivates feelings of love, compassion, and goodwill towards oneself and others. It originates from the Buddhist tradition but is now practiced by people from various backgrounds for its positive effects on mental well-being and relationships.
Now, some people in the Christian tradition get a little weirded out when we talk about using spiritual practices from other faith traditions. So I want to note the core purposes of this spiritual practice align with Christian values – such as love, compassion, forgiveness, and treating others with kindness. It encourages Christians to embody the teachings of Jesus Christ and cultivate a heart of love towards oneself and others.
And so often these spiritual practices are guidelines… they provide an outline for us building our own strategems of meaning and connecting with the Divine presence around us. You’ve probably heard the phrase that “Your focus determines your reality” – thank you Jedi Master Qui Gon Jinn. Or maybe you’ve heard the derivative: “Your intent determines your focus.” Our focus here is not the actual practice. Our focus is witnessing more deeply to the movement of the Divine in our presence. For the Christian, that Divinity is marked by the Holy Trinity. And that is our focus… the spiritual practice becomes our means.
And we probably need to note that spiritual traditions have always adapted outside practices for their own ends. Think about the songs you sing in worship… the devotions you may use in your normal spiritual reflections… the podcast you’re listening to right now. All of this stuff would have been foreign to the spiritual practitioners of a few generations ago.
That being said, we should give clear credit and respect to the spiritual tradition that provides for us the Loving-Kindness Meditation.
Loving-kindness meditation, also known as metta meditation, has its origins in ancient Buddhist teachings. It is believed to have been taught by the Buddha himself around 2,500 years ago. The practice of metta (loving-kindness) is an essential component of the Brahma-viharas, which are four sublime states of mind emphasized in Buddhist teachings.
The Buddha taught metta as a means to develop boundless love and goodwill towards all beings, as a way to overcome ill-will, anger, and aversion. The practice aims to cultivate a heart of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. By cultivating these qualities, practitioners seek to transcend personal biases and extend benevolence towards oneself and those around them.
The teachings and practice of loving-kindness meditation were transmitted orally from generation to generation within the Buddhist tradition. However, the popularity and wider dissemination of metta meditation can be attributed to various Buddhist teachers and scholars over the centuries.
One influential figure in the popularization of loving-kindness meditation is the Burmese monk Sayadaw U Narada. He played a significant role in introducing metta meditation to the West in the mid-20th century. Narada's teachings and writings, including the book "The Practice of Loving-Kindness," helped to make the practice more accessible to a broader audience.
In recent times, loving-kindness meditation has gained popularity beyond the Buddhist community and has been embraced by people from diverse spiritual backgrounds and secular settings. The practice has been incorporated into mindfulness-based interventions, psychotherapy, and secular mindfulness programs, where it is recognized for its positive effects on well-being, empathy, and compassion.
No matter what you believe spiritually, you’ll agree that the world could use more empathy and compassion. And most of us would likely also agree that we could definitely practice a bit more self-compassion in the interest of well-being.
Another old phrase is that hurt people hurt people. Likewise, loved people love people. And this love begins with a proper sense of love for self… which the Loving-Kindness practice helps to rekindle.
So if you’re ready, let us walk through the steps of this practice. I’m going to provide some generic instructions. And then with each step provide an idea or two on how I could adapt that step to my own Christian focus.
You may take it where you will…
Step one: Find a quiet and comfortable space: Choose a quiet place where you can sit comfortably without distractions. You may want to sit on a cushion or a chair with an upright posture.
Step two is very similar to our centering practice: Set your intention. Begin by setting your intention for the meditation practice. This can be a simple statement, such as "May I cultivate loving-kindness towards myself and others" or any other phrase that resonates with you.
Or you can express your desire to cultivate the love and compassion of Christ within yourself and extend it to others.
The third step is to start directing loving-kindness towards yourself. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and bring your attention inward. Repeat phrases silently or aloud, such as "May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I live with ease." Feel the warmth and kindness in your words as you repeat them.
Now, I’ve heard/read several Christians offering that they are uncomfortable with these phrases. We don’t believe we are called towards a life of ease nor do we think we are promised happiness throughout our lives on earth. And, overall, we find the scriptures suggest that we set ourselves aside. So this phraseology feels a bit self-focused from that standpoint.
I think that’s a cultural interpretation–and I don’t want to suggest that Buddhism self-focused… because it’s very much about sacrifice and the benefit of all. For Buddhists there’s a lot packed into what makes one happy or safe or living with ease—and it’s not really about having stuff, but more letting go of want and selfishness. Which, actually, aligns with Christian values, too.
Another way to encounter this step is to start by expressing gratitude for God's love and blessings in your life. Acknowledge God’s unconditional love and ask for guidance throughout the meditation. You can say prayers of gratitude or recite biblical verses that emphasize God's love, as well.
I like Ephesians 2:4-5 (NRSV): "God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved."
The point of this third step is to ground yourself in love. So whatever it is that reminds you of the love in your life–it is of value here.
Step four involves extending loving-kindness to loved ones: After generating feelings of loving-kindness towards yourself, bring to mind a loved one—a family member, friend, or someone you care deeply about. Repeat the phrases, directing your well-wishes towards them, such as "May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you live with ease." Visualize them experiencing happiness and peace.
Variations of this step include, again, bringing to mind a loved one and focusing on the love you have for them. Pray for their well-being and happiness, asking God to bless them abundantly. Maybe use phrases such as "May [name] be filled with God's love and grace. May they experience peace and joy."
Move on and pray for multiple people if you feel so moved.
In Step Five we’ll widen the net as we cultivate loving-kindness for neutral people: So now, bring to mind someone neutral, such as an acquaintance or someone you don't have strong feelings towards. Extend your loving-kindness towards them using the same phrases.
Again, you can turn this towards prayer: Pray for their well-being, asking God to fill their lives with love and blessings. Use phrases such as "May [name] be touched by God's love. May they experience compassion and find inner peace."
In Step Six, get ready, you’re going to extend loving-kindness to difficult people: Next, think of a person with whom you have difficulties, conflicts, or negative feelings. It's okay if this feels challenging at first. Send loving-kindness towards them, recognizing their shared humanity, and wishing them well. Repeat the phrases, such as "May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you live with ease."
OR "May [name] experience God's transforming love. May they find healing and reconciliation through love and grace."
Step Seven: Radiate loving-kindness to all beings. So expand your loving-kindness to encompass all beings, beyond the boundaries of your personal connections. Imagine your loving-kindness spreading out to everyone in your community, city, country, and eventually the whole world. Repeat the phrases, such as "May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings be safe. May all beings live with ease."
Or pray something like "May all beings be embraced by God's boundless love. May the love seen in Christ bring peace and unity to the world."
Step Eight is the last one. But it’s not one to be rushed. It’s losing and reflection: When you feel ready to end the practice, take a moment to notice any shifts in your emotions, thoughts, or body sensations. Reflect on the experience and the feelings of loving-kindness you have cultivated. Take a few deep breaths and slowly open your eyes.
Express gratitude to God for the love and ask for continued guidance in living a life filled with love and compassion.
That is it. A short TL;DR recap:
Physically prepare yourself comfortably.
Set your intention.
Reflect on love in your own life.
Reflect that love towards those around you.
Imagine what love looks like in the lives of those beyond your close circle.
Imagine what love and healing looks like with your adversaries.
Imagine love taking hold of all of creation.
Take some inventory of what occurred to you through the practice.
I’d love to hear your reactions to this practice or our other recommended spiritual practices and contemplative exercises.
Of course, if you think this is all nonsense, then Michelle Maldonado would love to hear from you at… Just kidding.
You can email both of us at [email protected].
The Compass Podcast is brought to you by United Methodist Communications.
If Compass is meaningful for you, then check out another episode.
You would enjoy “Using your imagination in prayer.’ That was episode 95.
OR “Meditative practice for daily disruptions” from May of 2021 outlines the Welcoming Prayer.
While you’re listening, leave a rating and/or review.
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But we’ll be back online with in two weeks time in this case… Chat at you then!