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Loving-kindness meditation practices in the time of Covid-19

May 21, 2020

By Mary Brantley, MBSR Instructor, Duke Integrative Medicine

There is a constant dialog in the mind about Covid-19. Many of us are living an entirely different life. One that we could not have imagined a few weeks ago. As things keep changing we may have moments of real despair.

 

When our fearful emotions arise it is helpful to have a meditation practice we can rest in that can give us some comfort and relief. What we think about, how we talk to ourselves and how we treat others is constantly being practiced. Just like playing a musical instrument or training in a sport. The more we do it the better we are at it. It becomes a habit!

Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote:

I have come to the frightening conclusion that
I am the decisive element
It is my personal approach that creates the climate.
It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis
is escalated or de-escalated and a person humanized or dehumanized.

Loving-kindness meditation is taught as an antidote to fear, it can also quiet feelings of anger, judgment, and worry by helping us see the innate goodness within ourselves and others. We can use it as a formal meditation practice or an informal practice that we turn to in moments of difficulty.

Kindness may come naturally to some but not to everyone. The good news is it can be learned and cultivated. It can become a quality of strength and bring inner peace to our world which has turned upside down.

Below are loving-kindness meditations practices from the book, “The Gift of Loving-Kindness: 100 Mindful Practices for Compassion, Generosity and Forgiveness”, Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, Mary Brantley and Tesilya Hanauer, (2008).

Be Still (page 112)

If you’re restless and don’t know what to do with yourself, stay where you are. Just be still, be quiet. Let the eagerness to do something cool down. Let the pull of the outside world release its grip on you. Just as the sediment in a bottle settles to the bottom, so will your emotions if you let them be still.

  1. Wherever you are in this moment, stay there. Don’t go any- where. You are right where you need to be.
  2. Bring your attention to your breath. Take three or four deep breaths. When you inhale, let it be deep. When you exhale, let the breath out slowly.
  3. Now repeat the following phrases to yourself a few times. Every time you say the words, let them penetrate your restlessness.

May I have courage.
May I trust myself.
May I have patience.
May I be free from fear.

Befriend the Difficult (page 110)

It’s easy to let negative self-talk tempt you to plunge into your dark emotions. Feeling helpless and afraid can become all-consuming. But you can learn to trust yourself and your capacity to stay present and open. When you stop reacting and begin to soften to your painful emotions, you can transform your relationship with the difficult. Whenever you find yourself feeling bad, try this:

  1. Take a comfortable position. Bring your attention to your breath, and feel it in your body. Pay close attention to where you first feel your breath entering and exiting your body; maybe it’s at the tip of your nose, or perhaps you feel the air flowing down the back of your throat. Let the sensation of your breath anchor you in the present moment.
  2. Now say these words to yourself:

Let me be free of worry.
Let me be free of pain.
Let me be free of fear.
Let me be free of anger.

3. Allow the feelings that these gentle words evoke to soothe your difficult emotions. Take time to feel the meaning of the words and see your body relaxing, the tension in your shoulders and jaw releasing. As you practice making friends with your painful emotions, have faith in your capacity and ability to befriend them.

Don’t Look Back (page 114)

The past is over, the future has not come yet, and we only have the present moment. Do we really want to spend this moment going over the same old story? Haven’t we run through this scene a hundred times? Don’t we know all the players and all the lines by heart? Of course, we do, but we get caught up in it anyway. It’s a habit. Our inner life can be like that, old stories that just keep rolling on.

  1. A very easy way to work with mental habits is to check in with your body. At this moment what is your body telling you? Check to see if you have tight muscles anywhere. Be sure to check your jaw, neck, shoulders, lower back, and belly.
  2. Now check to see how you are breathing. Is your breath shallow, fast, slow? Are you sighing?
  3. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. See if you can let the rhythm of your breath become gentle and even. As you repeat each one of these phrases, let yourself receive the meaning of the words:

May I be free of anger.
May my body relax.
May I be free of worry.
May I be at ease in this moment.

As soon as you bring your attention to the present moment, unhappiness and struggles can dissolve.

Raw Beauty (page 130)

There’s a certain comfort in knowing we can face life just as it is—no artificially induced highs, no special protections from things going “wrong,” just life in all of its raw beauty, challenge, pain, and joy. The next time you find yourself trying to control the uncontrollable, do this instead:

  1. Set your intention for this practice—for example, “May this practice help me open to the world as it is, no matter what is happening.”
  2. When you feel yourself closing down to pain or unwanted experiences, try instead to open your heart to the experiences no matter what is happening. Let an expansive, all-embracing feeling take root in your heart and open your arms to the pain or discomfort—just as you would open your arms to a young child running toward you in glee.
  3. Notice that embracing difficulty with loving arms helps transform the experience. Say to yourself, “I accept all aspects of my experience.”

Let the Clouds Pass Over (page 132)

Have you ever noticed that the sky isn’t harmed by the clouds that pass by? Whether the day is gray and bleak, or bright blue with wispy tendrils of clouds, the sky remains unchanged. We can learn to be this way with our own feelings. No matter what’s going on outside of us, through the cultivation of awareness and mindfulness of the moment we can establish a place within ourselves that is stable, unchanging. The next time the world outside of you throws you for a loop, try this exercise:

  1. Take a moment to notice your breathing. Let your chest rise and fall with each breath.
  2. Say to yourself, “May I find a place of stability and stillness within myself.”
  3. Stay focused on your intention to find stability and calm in a changing world.

The Mindful Minute (page 212)

The real mindfulness practice is being present in your daily routine and actions. The goal is to cultivate mindfulness in any environment. You can learn to artfully create a spacious stillness in your mind, a radiant calm that allows you to be fully present as the world around you shifts and tilts.

As you walk through your day today, see if you can repeatedly return to the present moment. While you’re working, can you bring your attention to your breath? If your body begins to ache, can you take a moment to stretch and breathe? As you’re talking to others, can you remain aware of your own inner dialogue and quiet it down so you can truly hear the other people?

Start today and commit to twenty-four hours, one hour, or even a minute of mindfulness. Wherever you are right now, choose to pay attention, on purpose, to the world around you. When your attention begins to wander, say to yourself, “May I be calm and at ease. May I be peaceful.” Don’t try to fight or change your experience; just stay in the moment and see what comes.

You might be surprised to find that the more you’re able to calm your inner chatter, the more your senses and awareness will come alive. You’ll be able to see the world as it is, not as you think it should be. Not only will you benefit, but everyone in your life will benefit from your increased awareness and calm presence.

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By Mary Brantley, MBSR Instructor, Duke Integrative Medicine There is a constant dialog in the mind about Covid-19. Many of us are living an entirely different life. One that we could not have imagined a few weeks ago. As things keep changing we may have moments of real despair.

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