Peace starts in the hearts and minds of individuals. Peace is not the responsibility of politicians, it is the responsibility of each one of us. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Jesus Christ all changed history by having peace in their hearts.
It is possible to develop the peace of mind that sees enemies as the frightened and distressed human beings that they are. Buddhism has taught the Loving Kindness Meditation for over 2500 years. This is not something that you read or think. This is something you do. You do not need any beliefs to do this. It is an action of the body and the mind.
Repeating this practice will change you; it will change how you feel and act.
Learn to do it and you will change yourself.
Teach others how to do it and you begin to change the world.
What is the Loving Kindness Meditation?
The Loving Kindness Meditation - or the Meditation of Peace - is a specific sequence of thoughts in which you hold first yourself, then a friend, a neutral person, a difficult person, and finally all other people in your heart in peace. There are many other meditations in many traditions but this is a specific meditation that brings about peace.
How to Meditate
Meditation is simple. It is not particularly easy, but it is simple. Meditation is focussing the mind on a single thing, letting distractions slip past unnoticed. There are proven ways to make this easier to do:
- First you ease the body
- Then you still the mind
- You hold your meditation in your mind and, in this case, in your heart
- You ease yourself gently back into the world
Times to Meditate
First thing in the morning is good. The mind is still close to the alpha waves of relaxation and is not yet full of the busy-busy-ness of the day. A still time in the evening is good too. Do not try to meditate lying down in bed - you will go to sleep, which is nice, but it is not meditating.
The whole cycle described here can take 20 minutes, or it can take one or more hours. If you have never meditated before, then try 2 or 3 minutes of movement, followed by 5 minutes or so of meditation and a couple of minutes bringing yourself back to the here and now. So, when you begin, you are spending about 10 minutes on the cycle. As you learn to enjoy it, the amount of time you meditate will naturally increase.
As with every physical skill, meditation improves with practice.
Where to Meditate
Chose somewhere that you can sit comfortably, with your thighs parallel with the floor and your back vertical. You can sit in an upright chair (try propping the back legs up on something to help the spine rest vertically). You can sit with pillows propping you up on a bed. The key is for the spine and head to be balanced. When you sit down, spend a few seconds imagining that there is a thread of light pulling you gently up by the crown of your head and let the rest of your spine find its own place.
The Loving Kindness Meditation - the Meditation for Peace
Easing the Body
If you know yoga or tai chi then do them now. Otherwise just ease and stretch your body. It is your body - it will let you know how best to do this.
The important thing is to pay attention to what you are doing. Don't judge, just observe. If you have an internal voice commenting on what you are doing, ask it very nicely if it will go away until you have finished meditating. Tell it a time when it can come back.
Move and ease your body, starting with the muscles of the scalp and face. Gently stretch your neck and ease your shoulders and spine. Move your torso, waist and hips. Stretch your thighs, and stretch and move your knees, lower legs, ankles and feet. None of this need take more than 2 or 3 minutes, though a sequence of yoga or tai chi could take much longer.
Enjoy the movement. Pay attention to your body, observe it, and listen to it. Be kind to it. If you feel aches or pains, then send them loving kindness.
If other thoughts come into your mind, gently release them with loving kindness, both to them and to yourself.
Stilling the Mind
Sit comfortably on your chair or bed and balance your head and spine. Breathe gently in and out a few times, letting the breath come and go without judgement. Just observe the breath as you observed your movements earlier. If thoughts come, let them go gently and kindly. Just bring the attention back to the breath.
Holding Yourself in Loving Kindness
Begin to think about yourself. Hold yourself in loving kindness. There are many ways to do this:
You can use words - say 'May I be well. May I be happy. May I live in peace' in time with your breathing.
You can use images - picture yourself surrounded by beautiful colours, or imagine yourself in the most peaceful place, however loving kindness looks to you.
You can use feelings - you can hold yourself in your own heart and bathe yourself in feelings of love, kindness and peace.
Play softly with these different methods or use a combination of them. Be kind to yourself and do not be judgemental. Let any other thoughts drift silently and easily away from you.
Holding a Friend in Loving Kindness
Think of a friend. At first, choose someone who is alive and with whom there is no sexual or romantic connection.
Again, hold them in loving kindness - use whichever of the ways works the best. Let any distractions go. If you start thinking about the last time you saw them or the next time you will see them, then gently bring your mind back to holding them in non-judgemental loving kindness. Use images, words ('may she be well, may she be happy, may she live in peace'), feelings or any of the three to do so.
Holding a Neutral Person in Loving Kindness
Think of someone you see but do not know. The driver of yesterday's bus. The person who served you coffee or put your groceries through the till.
When you hold them in loving kindness you may want to imagine who they are, where they are from, what their lives might be like. Use whichever method works best for you. Images, words ('may he be well, may he be happy, may he live in peace') or feelings. Let distractions evaporate away like silent mist.
Holding a Difficult Person in Loving Kindness
Think of someone you have difficulty with. Be kind to yourself, so do not make it an ex, a parent or a sibling. Perhaps it is someone who just rubs you up the wrong way.
You may want to imagine what it is like to be that person, or you may not. Again, use whatever is simplest: pictures, words or feelings. The objective is not that this person should become your new best friend. The objective is that you should practise caring for them as you would any other human being.
Holding the Four People in Loving Kindness
Now think of all four people: yourself, your friend, the neutral person and the difficult person. Gently compare your responses to each one. By now you will have found which works best for you - images, words or feelings.
The objective is to feel exactly the same way towards each person. This is why we start with easier relationships. If you had a present, you could not make up your mind who to give it to. For many people, putting themselves on an equal footing with others is difficult. Try to balance your responses to each of the people, becoming aware of their needs, fears and common humanity.
Now hold all four - yourself and the three others - in loving kindness. Again, use the pictures, words or feelings that work best for you. Stay in this space for a little while.
Holding the World in Loving Kindness
Now increase your focus and expand your feelings. Think not just of these four people, but expand your consciousness to include more and more people.
You may do this by thinking of the people in the same building, the same street, the same city, the same country, the world; moving out like a satellite image, expanding to include more and more.
Or you may stretch your feelings out sideways to include others, in the same way that water flows around and past us all, finally encompassing the seas.
There is no right way. Try several and play. Again, let thoughts, particularly judgemental thoughts, just fade quietly and softly away.
Easing Yourself Back Into the World
When you are ready, bring yourself back to where you are.
Begin to deepen your breathing. Follow the air as it flows into your body and out again.
Inhabit your body again. Feel your behind on whatever you are sitting. Feel your legs and back. Become aware of your whole body. Continue to observe your breathing. Wriggle your fingers and toes. Gently move your arms and legs. Feel the chair, the bed or the ground.
When you are ready, open your eyes.
Be gentle with yourself as you come back. After meditating it is a good idea to have a drink of cold water.
The Effects of the Loving Kindness Meditation
Meditation is something you do, not something you think. Only doing it is doing it, and each time you do you will find it becomes more familiar and easier.
As you practise this regularly you will find that you become more aware of the humanity of other people. They annoy you less. You have more time for them when you deal with them. You cut them more slack. And this change comes from within you.
At this time, we all need to increase our awareness of the vulnerability and humanity of everyone on the planet. As you change, you will change the others around you.
Start where you are.
Start with yourself.