Monday, February 23, 2015

Meditation Monday: Loving-Kindness

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates a weekly meditation group at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

Loving-kindness is a phrase that is found in a variety of faith practices. In Christianity, it refers to mercy and love; in Buddhism, loving-kindness is another way of describing altruistic or selfless love. The concept is used in meditation to create a state of compassion, openness, and love.

Noted meditation teacher Sharon Salzburg described loving-kindness as “a quality of friendship … a cultivation of a steady, unconditional sense of connection that touches all beings without exception, including ourselves.” In other words, a loving-kindness meditation helps us shift our mindset so that we relate to ourselves and everyone with compassion and caring.

Traditionally, a loving-kindness meditation is directed at 5 groups: 
  1. Yourself: Your practice always begins with developing a loving acceptance of yourself.
  2. Benefactor: Someone for whom you feel great gratitude (no conflict). This could be someone whom you’ve never met, like a public figure or religious leader.
  3. Beloved friend or family member: Someone you love unconditionally even though there might be occasional conflict.
  4. Neutral person: Someone for whom you have no particular feelings, such as your local coffee shop barista or your mail carrier.
  5. Difficult person (enemy): Anyone who creates aversion or anger (even public figure)

 There are 3 ways to arouse feelings of loving-kindness for these folks: 
  1. Visualize: See yourself or the person you’re directing the feeling toward smiling back at you and experiencing joy.
  2. Reflection: Reflect on positive qualities of yourself or person you’re directing loving-kindness toward.
  3. Auditory: Repeat an internalized loving phrase.

In cultivating your own practice, ask “what do I wish for myself and others?” Perhaps it’s to be: 
  • Free from danger
  • Happy
  • Free from suffering
  • Dwelling in peace
  • Safe

You can incorporate loving-kindness into your day-to-day life just by changing your mindset. Approach yourself and everyone as if we are all seeking happiness and peace. We are all trying to do what we think is right.

As part of a meditation, you can direct the following phrases toward all 5 groups: 
  • May I [or you] be free from inner and outer harm and danger. May I [or you] be safe and protected.
  • May I [or you] be free of mental suffering or distress.
  • May I [or you] be happy.
  • May I [or you] be free of physical pain and suffering.
  • May I [or you] be healthy and strong.
  • May I [or you] be able to live in this world happily, peacefully, joyfully, and with ease.
These are just examples, but the idea is to systematically work through all groups. You might find that feelings that seem to contradict loving-kindness will emerge, such as sadness, anger, or fear. That is fine; this shows your heart is softening and pent-up feelings are beginning to be revealed. Accept these feelings without judgment.

Approach your practice with a sense of curiosity and compassion. Appreciate your efforts, and remember—kindness is contagious.

Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC is a staff therapist and the intake coordinator at The Awakening Center. In addition to seeing clients for individual therapy, she leads the weekly meditation group and co-leads the Somatic-Experience-Informed Trauma Healing Group.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First

By Erin Stitzel, MA, LPC

Have you ever found yourself in situations in life where things just don't seem to be going your way? Perhaps you are in a relationship that is more draining than nourishing. Or, your job makes you feel like a robot who just shows up day after day, not really emotionally or mentally invested. You may have friends or acquaintances in your life who seem to be energy vampires; they are more adept at taking than giving. Why do we tolerate these situations? What is it about our conditioning that keeps us from saying "Yes!" to happiness, joy, and thriving?
            Perhaps we grew up in families, cultures, or societies that value selflessness and putting others first. To be sure, giving and care for others are honorable and valuable qualities. They allow us to have empathy and connect deeply with others. However, a recent conversation with a client of mine revealed the following wisdom: If we don't take care of ourselves first, and cultivate a healthy and loving relationship with our Self, then we have no Self from which to give and care for others.
            "In the event that our cabin loses pressure, an oxygen mask will fall down from above you. Secure your mask first and then assist others." So, how can we begin to cultivate this loving relationship with our Selves? How can we shift our paradigm to one that is inclusive and understanding? The following guidelines can serve as gentle reminders to move you onto the path of taking care of your Self.   
  1. If it feels wrong, don't do it.
  2. Say "exactly" what you mean
  3. Don't be a people pleaser.
  4. Trust your instincts.
  5. Never speak badly about yourself.
  6. Never give up on your dreams.
  7. Don't be afraid to say "no."
  8. Don't be afraid to say "yes."
  9. Be kind to yourself.
  10. Let go of what you can't control.
  11. Stay away from drama and negativity.
  12. Love.

These sound so simple, but you may find that as you go about working on these for yourself, it feels easier and more natural to extend these principles to others. As with many things in life, just keep at it. Practice makes possible. So what do you think? Ready to put on your oxygen mask?

Erin Stitzel, MA, LPC, is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. She co-leads the Adult DBT group and the Teen/Family DBT group. Erin is specially trained in Internal Family Therapy (IFS), Person-Centered Therapy, and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.