Loving kindness. Sounds like an easy platitude, right? Love your neighbor. All you need is love. But this Buddhist concept isn’t quite so simplistic.
DBT founder Marsha Linehan describes loving kindness as “a prayer for yourself or someone else.” It really is a spiritual practice, one that I have used with children in religious education classrooms, but you don’t have to necessarily be a spiritual person to practice it.
In a nutshell, loving kindess meditation asks us to reflect upon and send out positive wishes for peace, health, and safety. You start with yourself (which can be surprisingly difficult if you are feeling self-deprecating at that moment!), move on to those you love, and then finally to a blessing of the entire world.
Dr. Linehan says that this practice can really help with decreasing how judgmental you are, and here’s why: you are also asked to send peace and compassion to someone whom you are angry with. Talk about a challenge! The first few times I did the exercise, I literally could not engage with that portion. Send love to people who had grievously harmed me? No way.
Over time, though, I reached a point where, amazingly enough, I could send that energy to a man who had attacked me during a psychotic episode. Loving kindness meditation allowed me a space and structure in which I could pray for his continued healing and respite from the hallucinatory voices which had ordered him to assault me, and I found that this practice gave me a great deal of solace. (Please note: I am not in any way suggesting that survivors must forgive or find compassion for their perpetrators. I’m simply speaking from my own experience.)
Lest you think I have morphed into some kind of love guru, however, rest assured that I still struggle with this meditation. I would love (pun not intended) to be able to do it on behalf of an emotionally abusive ex-girlfriend who caused me such pain I still dwell on it a decade later, but I’m just not there yet. I may never be, and that’s OK. The lesson of compassion that loving kindness teaches me daily allows me a much more nuanced view of people’s struggles and foibles, and I think that would make Dr. Linehan proud.
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