Loving Kindness Meditation

December 10, 2017

Loving-Kindness meditation falls into the class of analytic meditation. Although for many readers Dr. Herbert Benson’s relaxation response will be sufficient, if you want to try a type of analytic meditation, HM strongly recommends loving-kindness meditation. There are several reasons for this. One is that HM finds this meditation personally fulfilling. Another is that researchers have been astounded at the recordings and images of the brain from highly experienced meditators while they are doing this meditation. The third reason is that the world is much in need of love and kindness. Loving-kindness is wanting others to be happy. You should be comfortable doing the relaxation response before trying loving-kindness meditation.

This is taken from Kathleen McDonald’s “How to Meditate.” Be comfortable. Relax your body and mind and let all thoughts and worries subside. Mindfully observe your breath until you are calm and your awareness is focused in the here-and-now. You should think that you are doing this meditation for the benefit of yourself and others: to generate more positive, loving energy in your mind and to send it out to others, to the world.

Start by imagining living beings around you: your mother is on your left, your father on your right, and other relatives and friends are around you and behind you. Visualize in front of you those who dislike or who have hurt you. And extending in every direction, right to the horizon, are all other beings. Feel as if they are there, all in human form, sitting quietly, like you. If it is difficult to visualize all beings, think of as many as you can comfortably. Stay relaxed—don’t feel crowded or tense, but imagine that a sense of harmony and peace pervades everyone.

Consider how nice it would be, for yourself and others, if you were able to love all these beings. Contemplate that everyone wants to be happy and to avoid suffering, just as you do. They are all trying to make the best of their lives, even those who are angry and violent.

Now generate a feeling of love in your heart. You can do this by thinking of someone you love and letting your natural good feelings for this person arise. You might like to imagine your love as a warm, bright light, not physical, but pure, positive energy glowing in your heart.

Before you can love others you need to love yourself as you are, with your personal faults and shortcomings, and recognizing you have the potential to free yourself from all your problems. So, really wish yourself all the happiness and goodness there is. Imagine the the warm energy in your heart expands until it completely fills your body and mind.

Now meditate on your love for others. Start with your family and close friends sitting near you. Say in your mind words such as “May you be happy, may all your thoughts be positive and all your experiences good. May your lives be long and peaceful . Continue in this manner. Imagine the warm luminous energy generating from your body touching them and filling their bodies and minds, bringing them the happiness they wish for. Don’t worry if you don’t actually feel love; it’s enough to say these words and think these thoughts. In time the feeling will come.

Then think of some people you are not so close to and extend the same wishes as before.

The hard part comes last. Turn your attention to the people in front of you, those you are having difficulty with or for whom you have extreme dislike. Contemplate that they also need and deserve your love. Wish them to be free of the confusion, anger, and self-centeredness that drive them to act the way they do. Really want them to find peace of mind, happiness, and finally enlightenment. Think and try to extend the same wishes as in the case of the preceding groups.

Conclude the session by thinking that you definitely have the potential to love everyone, even those who annoy or hurt you and those you don’t even know. Generate a strong wish to work on your own anger, impatience, selfishness and the other problems that prevent you from having such love. Keeping your mind open and trying to overcome ego’s prejudiced attitudes will leave much space in your heart for pure, universal love—and thus happiness for yourself and others—to develop.

Kathleen McDonald likes to dedicate her meditations. In this case, she says, “Finally, dedicate the positive energy of your meditation to all beings, with the wish that they find happiness and enlightenment.

For another version of the loving-kindness meditation, go to the healthy memory blog titled, “SPACE.”


Meditation as Psychotherapy

December 5, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of Chapter 10 of a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson. The subtitle is “Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. Meditation was not originally intended to treat psychological problems. However, in modern times it has shown promise in the treatment of some disorders, particularly depression and anxiety disorders. A meta-analysis of forty-seven studies on the application of meditation methods to treat patients with mental health problems found that meditation can lead to decreases in depression (especially severe depression), anxiety, and pain. They were about as effective as medications, but had no side effects. To a lesser degree, meditation can reduce the toll of psychological stress. Loving-kindness meditation may be especially beneficial to patients suffering from trauma, especially those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Mindfulness as been melded with cognitive therapy to produce Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). MBCT has become the most empirically well-validated psychological treatment with a meditation basis. This integration is having a wide impact in the clinical world. Empirical tests of applications to an ever larger range of psychological disorders are underway. Although there have been occasional reports of the negative effects of meditation, the findings to date point to the potential promise of meditation-based strategies. The enormous increase in scientific research in these areas makes for an optimistic future.

Mind, Body, & Genome

December 4, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” None of the many forms of meditation studied in this book was originally designed to treat illness. Nevertheless, today the scientific literature is replete with studies assessing whether these ancient practices might be useful for treating illnesses. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR; see the healthy memory blog post “Improving Selective Attention” for more information) and similar methods can reduce the emotional component of suffering from disease, but not cure the maladies. But mindfulness training— as short as three days—results in a short-term decrease in pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are the molecules responsible for inflammation. With extensive practice this seems to become a trait effect, with imaging studies finding in mediators at rest lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, along with an increased connectivity between regulatory circuitry and sectors of the brain’s self system, especially the posterior cingulate cortex.

For experienced meditation practitioners, a daylong period of intensive mindfulness down regulates genes involved in inflammation. The enzyme telomerase, which slows cellular aging, increases after three months of intensive practicing of mindfulness and loving-kindness (Go to the healthy memory blog post SPACE to find a description of loving-kindness meditation).

Long-term meditation may lead to beneficial structural changes in the brain. Current evidence is inconclusive as to whether such effects emerge with relative short-term practice, like MBSR, to only become apparent with longer-term practice. Taken together, the hints of neural rewiring that undergird altered traits seem scientifically credible, although further studies for specifics are needed.


March 7, 2017

SPACE is the title of Part Three of Victor Strecher’s Book, “Life on Purpose.”  The Japanese have a word for “Life on Purpose” and that is ikigai, which is used in these posts because it has an earlier appearance in this blog and is shorter.

SPACE is an acronym that stands for Sleep, Presence, Activity, Creativity, and Eating.  An entire chapter is devoted to each of these topics, as the author goes into great detail regarding the importance and the implementation of these activities.  Only Presence will be addressed in the healthy memory blog.

Presence begins with this quote from Steve Jobs:
“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is.  If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to  hear more subtle things—that’s when  you intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more.  Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment.  You see so much more that you could see before.  It’s a discipline; you have to practice.”

Jobs is talking about meditation.  He personally consulted Zen masters and made periodic trips to Japan to sharpen his meditations.

Much has been written in the healthy memory blog about meditation.  What will be included here is “LOVING-KINDNESS MEDITATION.”  This particular meditation is famous.  One reason for its popularity comes from the recordings of the brains of Buddhist monks while doing this meditation.  The phrase, “off-the-charts” might capture these recordings.

*Find a comfortable place to sit, either in a chair or on the floor (HM reclines, which is okay provided you do not fall asleep).  Close your eyes.  Take a few moments to just be, noticing the sounds, smells, and feelings.  Allowing yourself to settle down, turn your attention to your breathing.

*Notice the way you body automatically, effortlessly inhales and exhales.

*Don’t try to manipulate you breath in any way.  Notice the feeling of air moving in and out of the nose and the easy, natural way your body moves

*Imagine yourself in a beautiful place.  As you continue breathing in and out, say to yourself, “May I be happy and free of suffering.”  (You can use many other salutary phrases here such as “health” or “strength”—or create your own.)

*Next, imagine a new person entering your beautiful place.  This is a person you care for a great deal.  Again, as you continue breathing in and out, say to yourself, “May you be happy and free of suffering.”

*Now move to another person entering your beautiful place.  This is a person who provokes no feeling of like or dislike.  A neutral person.  It could be a bank teller or a waitress you recently interacted with.  As you continue breathing in and out, say to yourself, “May you be happy and free of suffering.”
*Now move to another person.  A person who provokes feelings of dislike.  Again as you continue breathing in and out, say to yourself, “May you be happy and free of suffering.”

*Finally, extend these feeling of loving-kindness to the world.  To all living beings.  Bring them into your special place and say to yourself. “May all beings be happy and free of suffering.”

*Take a minute or so with your eyes shut before going back to your daily routine.