Commentaries on yoga

Loving Kindness Meditation

by Tristan Dorling

Q:  

I have been struggling recently with issues coming up, especially issues related to other people. My meditation practice seems to be helping a bit but there are some blockages that seem to be rooted in the past, which seem to keep coming up again and again. Is there anything I can do to help move beyond this? 

A:    

Mental formations that are deeply rooted in the mind are called samskaras. Samskaras tend to come up again and again, sometimes disappearing for a few months or even a few years and then resurfacing again. They can be difficult to shift and can make things difficult even for experienced meditators. Quite often these deep-rooted samskaras will be to do with things that have happened in relation to other people. 

If we have been practicing yoga for a while and have developed some inner silence, then there is a practice that we can do to help remove these samskaras. It is a self-inquiry practice (jnana yoga). Self-inquiry practices only work when we have a certain degree of inner silence present, because if we don’t, we can simply end up taking stories in the mind and creating bigger stories out of them, creating more problems. But when inner silence is present, there is a letting go that happens naturally in stillness and this is the key for dissolving samskaras in the mind. 

One form of self-inquiry is called jnana affirming. This is where we use affirmations to enhance the natural qualities of awakening. For example we could use affirmations such as: “I am whole”, “I am at peace”,  “I am free” or “I am love”, to affirm inner qualities of our life. 

There is a particular practice which is called “cultivating loving kindness”, that can be very useful when it comes to dissolving particular blockages, especially blockages that have arisen due to past interactions with others. The more inner silence we have, the more effective this practice will be. Just a caution that this is a powerful practice and may not be suitable for everyone. If someone has had a traumatic experience in the past, then this practice may simply bring up too many emotions to the surface. So, if in doubt, or if you experience emotions that you feel are too powerful, then you can back-off and come back to this later, when you feel you are ready. 

This is how the practice is done: 

Sit down in a quiet place with your eyes closed. Begin by simply observing your mind for a few moments. Then when you are ready, imagine a friend, or family member, or a group of people who you feel particularly close to and who you really care about. Then imagine yourself sending waves of love and compassion towards these people.  Remain in this state for approximately 5 minutes, sending feelings of love and compassion towards them. 

Then after about 5 minutes, imagine someone, or a group of people, who you feel quite neutral towards. A person, or group of people who you know, but who you do not have much to do with. Maybe someone who works in your local shop, or your bus driver. Then imagine yourself sending the same feelings of love and compassion towards this person, or these people, remembering that they will have the same problems and difficulties in their lives as everyone else does. Again, remain in this state for around 5 minutes. 

Then, imagine yourself being with someone, or a group of people who have hurt or harmed you at some point in your life. Then imagine yourself sending the same feelings of love and compassion towards this person, or this group of people,  remembering that they will have the same problems and difficulties in their lives as everyone else. Again, stay in this state for around 5 minutes. 

Then imagine yourself, and visualise sending feelings of love and compassion towards yourself, remembering that you have had the same difficulties and problems in your live, as everyone does, and that you are just as worth of love as everyone else. Stay in this state for around 5 minutes. 

When you have finished, if you want to, you can lie down and take a few minutes rest. This practice can be powerful and lying down for a few minutes can help to integrate the energies in our body. If you have a lot of powerful emotions coming up, you can continue to lie down for 10 minutes, or as long as needed. 

Because this is a self-inquiry practice, it can be done during the day when we are off our mat. It should be done sparingly at first, no more than once a day. But gradually, as we get used to it, it can be done more often. It is not necessary to choose the same people each time. We can use the same people if we want to each time we practice, or different people. This practice should not replace our regular meditation practice, as our regular meditation is designed to cultivate inner silence. The cultivation of love and compassion is designed to remove deep-rooted blockages in the body and mind, and to open and purify the heart centre. 

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