What if this Valentine’s day you could give yourself or your partner a gift that will improve the quality of your relationship, lower overall stress levels and requires nothing but your mind and a strong will? Many of us think it’s necessary to buy our way into our partner’s hearts on this holiday. But what if there was a way that you could explore your own world, your feelings towards others and even deepen your relationship with your partner using just your mind and a strong intention?
Loving kindness meditation is a form of meditation that helps us think about and wish peace and happiness upon ourselves and others. It is also a part of a larger practice called mindfulness: the non-judgmental, open, curious awareness of and focus on the present moment, defined by psychologist Joh Kabat-Zinn. These ideas are all connected in the fact that they help you with your awareness, tolerance and appreciation for your inner and outer worlds. A study was conducted at the University of Utah that revealed a significant relationship between loving-kindness meditation and lower levels of insensitivity, interference and ridicule from others (Uchino, 2016).
Mindfulness, and more specifically, loving-kindness meditation, may help you lessen your mind-wandering and over-thinking that usually leads to negative evaluations of your circumstances or your relationships. This kind of negative thinking pattern may then lead you to experience depression about the past or anxiety about the future.
Loving-kindness meditation involves repeating certain phrases that emphasize peace, happiness and true freedom. You may reflect on your desires, feelings and thoughts towards yourself or towards your partner while repeating these lines aloud or silently. You may even choose to meditate with your partner when you’re ready. The real goal of loving-kindness meditation is designed to help you view yourself or your partner as a complete being who is worthy of love, forgiveness and compassion—flaws definitely included.
You can begin with performing a loving-kindness meditation alone. Find a quiet room. Sit down in a comfortable position, and close your eyes. Breathe deeply. With a true intention, pick a few of the following phrases and repeat them for about 10 minutes silently or aloud:
- May I be happy
- May I be free from suffering
- May I be physically well
- May I be deeply at peace
- May I be at peace with people in his/her life
- May I be filled with loving-kindness
- May I be free from inner and outer danger
- May I be happy, truly happy, and free
If you’d like to meditate with your partner, you may ask him or her to join you. Find a quiet room, sit down and face each other. You two may either close your eyes or gaze deep into each other’s eyes while silently repeating the phrases above, replacing the “I’s” with your partner’s name. Looking into each other’s eyes may feel very awkward at first, but there’s something beautiful about how uncomfortable it starts out to be. You tend to notice new things about your partner’s face, new observations about how you feel when you’re near them, and even new ways to articulate how you feel about this person. Your mind should be focusing on something that sounds similar to this:
- May (partner’s name) be happy
- May (partner’s name) be free from suffering
- May (partner’s name) be physically well
- May (partner’s name) be deeply at peace
While meditating with your partner or solo, many distracting thoughts will likely arise in your mind. No worries—this is very normal. During the beginning of your practice, it may be hard to focus your mind on what you’re saying, but as it is with anything else, practice makes perfect. Notice the thoughts, let them go and come back to your mantras. The following series of sentences may be one you become too familiar with: “May Jessica be free from suffering. May Jessica be happy. May Jessica be physically…Oh, crap. I still need to submit my paper for political science! Okay, wait, focus. May Jessica…” This is totally okay and expected. Just be aware of your drifting thoughts, and come back to your practice. With regular practice, you’ll improve your ability to bring back and focus your mind on the meanings behind these phrases while cultivating a stronger sense of tolerance and compassion towards yourself and others.
Loving-kindness meditation gives you an opportunity to explore your thoughts towards yourself and others from a healthy distance, allowing you to experience a bit of relief from everyday stressors and the emotions that come along with them. This may, in turn, decrease overall anxiety and relationship-related stress. This practice may also help you reframe how you see your relationship with your partners and your individual circumstances in general—you become less willing to blame yourself and more willing to accept what you cannot change. These are one of the many lasting impacts of loving kindness meditation. Those with ill-will will most likely find their expectations to be true about the practice; if you don’t think it’ll work, it probably won’t. If your intentions are true, or if your feelings for your partner are genuine, and if you are honest about improving the quality of these relationships, this meditation will do wonders.
Photo by: Michael Shuey