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The Compassion Door: 5 Steps to more LOVE!

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By Leona Kashersky, Psy.D.

For the last year I have deepened my study and practice of compassion, using embodiment practices to integrate  “Lovingkindness” or “Metta” into my daily life and physical being.  My personal experience mirrors what research in the fields of transpersonal and mindfulness psychology is saying about the overall health benefits of the practice. This practice actually enhances immune  function, cardiovascular health, glucose regulation, and even improves social skills!

Metta can be loosely defined as love and compassion for the self and others. Researchers are learning that practicing lovingkindness or metta has objective and observable emotional, physical, social benefits. Donald Rothberg, whose work spans over 30 years as a leading teacher and writer on transpersonal psychology, meditation, and socially engaged spiritual practice, wrote “The Engaged Spiritual Life: A Buddhist Approach to Transforming Ourselves and the World.” Both Donald Rothberg and Barbra Fredrickson have been influential in conducting and participating in research to establish evidence for the health benefits of meditation, self-love, and compassion in modern society.  Fredrickson teaches what she calls “micro-moments of love” or  “positivity resonance” in scientific lingo and in everyday language. As Fredrickson points out, compassion generates loveand love feels good! Start with yourself, and it will naturally radiate out to others near and far.

In my most recent experiences with meditation on love, compassion, and kindness I have used Metta mantras such as “rest in an awakened heart”, “safe and free from harm”, “the body supports the practice”, “surrounded by love and kindness”, in combination with movement. The pairing of movement, breath, mantra, and human connection help to assist in the integration of the compassion practice into the entire mind, body, and spirit.  Movement can include yoga, walking, and dance, including 5 Rhythms; Included are a couple of links to local favorites! The practice of movement meditation has assisted in my personal journey to embody the practice of loving kindness.

The following  techniques reduce burnout and increases positive emotion and LOVE on many different levels in the lives’ of individual people, families, and communities.  A brief and concise description of how the mantras are used are outlined below:

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Step 1:

Cultivate self-compassion: First, focus on the easiest person to grow compassion towards, the self. This is done by not merely reciting words or phrases, but by allowing one’s self to feel the meaning of the phrase or words during the meditation.

  1. I rest with an awakened heart
  2. May I be safe and free from harm
  3. May my body support my practice
  4. May I be surrounded by love and kindness

Step 2:

Cultivate compassion for a ‘dear one’, someone you love dearly. This may be your child, your parent, or a romantic partner, or even a pet!  This is the second easiest form of compassion to grow. As you concentrate on the meaning or feelings of phrases or words, picture the face of the dear one; allow yourself to really experience the face of this dear one. Then slowly use  following mantras. One meditation session may only focus on one of the phrases for each of these steps.

  1. May you rest with an awakened heart
  2. May you be safe and free from harm
  3. May your body support your practice
  4. May you be surrounded by love and kindness

Step 3:

Cultivate compassion for a ‘neutral person’. This neutral person can be someone you see at Starbucks every weekday morning; however you don’t really know them. You don’t usually talk or say hello, you may just see each other in passing. You have no strong feelings towards them, neither positive or negative. Allow yourself to really imagine them in your presence, see their face in your mind’s eye. Begin the following mantras for them.

  1. May you rest with an awakened heart
  2. May you be safe and free from harm
  3. May your body support your practice
  4. May you be surrounded by love and kindness

Step 4:

Cultivate compassion for a ‘difficult person’, someone you find challenging to feel compassion for at the moment.  The difficult person can be someone  close to you, or a someone you’ve never met, such as a political leader. Sometimes the ‘difficult person’ and the ‘dear one’ can be the same person depending on how you feel at the time. Really allow yourself to feel the presence of the difficult person before using the following mantras.

  1. May you rest with an awakened heart
  2. May you be safe and free from harm
  3. May your body support your practice
  4. May you be surrounded by love and kindness

Step 5:

Cultivating compassion for all beings is a meditation focusing on humans, plants, animals, and the entire living planet. We continue to use the four focused mantras or phrases to do this with the following.

  1. May all beings rest with an awakened heart
  2. May all beings be safe and free from harm
  3. May all beings be free from pain and suffering
  4. May all beings be surrounded by love and kindness

 

References: 

Cultivating self-care and compassion in psychological therapists in training: the experience of practicing loving-kindness meditation. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, Vol 7(4), Nov 2013, 267-277 Boellinghaus, Inga; Jones, FergalW.; Hutton, Jane
Effect of Kindness-Based Meditation on Health and well-Being: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Galante, Julieta; Galante, Ignacio; Bekkers, Marie-jet; Gallacher, John Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Jun 30, 2014, No Pagination Specified.

The nondiscriminating heart: Lovingkindness meditation training decreases implicit intergroup bias. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 143(3), Jun 2014, 1306-1313 Kang, Yoona; Gray, Jeremy R.; Dovidio, John F.

Self-compassion: Conceptualizations, correlations, and interventions. Barnard, Laura K.; Curry, John F. Review of General Psychology, Vol 15(4), Dec 2011, 289-303.

Effects of intranasal oxytocin on ‘compassion focused imagery’.  Rockliff, Helen; Karl Anke; McEwan, Kirsten; Gilbert, Jean; Matos, Marcela; Gilbert, Paul Emotion, Vol 66(8), Nov 2011, 1388-1396

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