This ancient practise is one I’ve tried occasionally, sometimes looking at a photograph of someone I cherish. It lifted my mood, made me smile, and left me feeling warm and glad.
Now I’ve begun a more consistent practise as part of mindfulness training under the guidance of Dr Bruno Cayoun.
I’ve been following the Mindfulness-integrated Cognitive Behavioural Therapy program for 12 weeks (see mindfulness.net.au). At this stage I practise a bodyscanning meditation for 30 minutes twice daily, focusing on body sensations, followed by 5 to 15 minutes of loving kindness meditation.
To begin the loving kindness practice I focus on sensations of ‘free flow’ in my body, felt as tingling or vibration, often strongest in my hands. The instructions suggest focusing on the heart area in particular. I found this interesting as at times in my life of high emotion, such as grief, elation, or intense empathy for another’s suffering, I’ve felt a sensation of energy welling up from deep within my torso and flowing out through my heart area and my hands. I’ve never been sure what to make of this, but it’s been distinct and powerful and accompanied by overwhelming feelings of compassion. I imagine this is what I will feel during the practice once I am more experienced.
The next step is to think positive thoughts directed sequentially toward myself, my loved ones, those I know less intimately, those with whom I may be in conflict, and finally, all beings. I can use my own phrasing for these thoughts. An example: may I feel peace; may all beings feel peace. The thoughts are to be accompanied by an outward flow of positive feeling toward the person or beings I am contemplating.
The instructions also suggest using visualisation, and I find this easier than repeating positive statements. I visualise myself and my loved ones by imagining our faces, imagining sharing a loving look, touch or hug. The images that emerge often depict the loved one in a posture of openness and vulnerability, eyes closed as if sleeping. I touch their hair with gentleness, stroke their face, or rest a palm on their forehead. I see their beauty and their pain. I feel a deep empathy and compassion.
Interestingly, the flow of compassion comes most easily when I visualise my beloved guinea pigs, perhaps because my love for them is uncomplicated and they depend completely on my care.
I visualise also those loved family members, human and animal, who have died.
I am able to direct loving feelings toward friends and neighbours, but struggle to direct these toward people who have harmed me. In conclusion I direct loving feelings toward the blue planet with all her beings.
Cooinciding with the start of this practice has been the onset of extremely pleasant, at times euphoric dreams. The dreams feature people from my present and past and a mutual sharing of goodwill and delight. I wake suffused with incredible wellbeing. They are very happy dreams. In the first of these dreams two former friends – people whom I avoid in daily life because of a hurtful falling out – were present and we hugged lovingly.
Is this an effect of my new practise? Can it be connected? I’m a novice at this form of meditation and look forward with curiosity to where it takes me.