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Dan Harris Loving-Kindness Guided Meditation

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Dan Harris, host of the hit podcast Ten Percent Happier, leads a loving-kindness meditation for skeptics. Recent research has shown that this practice positively impacts mental and physical health.

(This meditation is part two of our interview with Dan Harris)


[00:00:00] Dan Harris: Hey, skeptics. We’re going to do a kind of meditation that if you’re a skeptic might be a little triggering because, at least at first, it may seem a little saccharin and forced, as it did to me. 

And yet there are plenty of studies that show that this form of meditation, sometimes referred to as loving-kindness or metta, has been shown to have really positive impacts on your psychology, your physical health, and how you behave in the world.

So it’s really interesting and it suggests that love or warmth or friendliness isn’t just a factory setting. It’s a skill that you can train throughout your life.

Find a comfortable meditation posture

Let’s take a comfortable position.

I’m 51 and never really got into yoga so I don’t fold myself into a pretzel, I just sit on a chair.

With this form of meditation actually, it helps to be very comfortable, so you can hurl yourself onto the floor if you want.

The first time I learned loving-kindness meditation the only thing I liked about it was that the teacher gave us permission to lie down. 

So just pick a comfortable position and maybe take a deep breath to reset the nervous system.

Send loving-kindness to a loved one

dad holding cute baby giving him a kiss

What we’re going to do is start by bringing to mind either the image. Just kind of a felt sense somewhere in your body of an easy person or animal, a pet, a kid, to like or love.

We have a cat named Ozzy who likes to shred my feet and calves during dinner but I love him anyway. So I’m going to go with Ozzy.

When you’ve got the image or the sense of this person or animal stabilized in your mind you’re going to repeat four phrases.

May you be happy.

You don’t have to rush this. 

You really want to let the phrase land to connect with the image. So I might imagine Ozzy when he is not trying to puncture my flesh with his claws. 

I might picture him relaxing in a sunspot in the living room. May you be happy.

The next phrase is, May you be safe.

May you be healthy. 

Sometimes I picture him scrambling down the hallway on the wood floors.

May you be healthy in your body.

And then finally, May you live with ease

These are all classical phrases that have been used for centuries, but sometimes I add, may you live with ease in the face of whatever arises for you, given the truth of impermanence.

Send loving-kindness to yourself

girl with eyes closed in forest with sunshine

Okay, now we’ve done the easy person. We’re going to do a little contemplative bait and switch here and move on to ourselves.

If you can generate an image or even just a sense of yourself sitting or lying down. If you’re going to go visually, you might choose a childhood photo because it might be easier. 

Anyway, I usually just get a sense of myself in the chair. May I be happy.

That’s not selfishness. If I’m happy and strong, I’m going to be better able to be of use to the people around me.

And by the way, a little bit of selfishness is fine. It’s baked into us. May I be happy. Nothing wrong with that.

May I be safe and protected from any harm.

May I be healthy and strong in this body.

May I live with ease in the face of whatever bullshit I have to put up with, often self-created.

You don’t actually have to force yourself to feel a certain way. You just need to do the reps, the sort of mental bicep curl of generating the image and sending the phrase. 

You don’t need to be attached to creating a certain feeling. Just do it. Do the exercise.

Send loving-kindness to a mentor

ballet teacher helping girl stretch

Okay, now we’re going to do a mentor, somebody who’s helped you in your life, and it could be a parent, if you’ve got a good relationship with your parent, or a teacher. 

If you don’t have anybody who readily comes to mind, who’s been helpful to you. You can think of somebody who you admire, whose life has been helpful to you, even if you don’t know them.

May you be happy.

May you be safe.

May you be healthy.

May you live with ease.

Send loving-kindness to a neutral person

person being ignored, overlooked

Okay, neutral person, this is somebody you might see all the time, but tend to overlook. For some of us that describes a large population. 

So just pick somebody, a barista, a neighbor who doesn’t generate much emotion either way. Somebody at the office who is only peripherally part of your world.

May you be happy.

May you be safe.

May you be healthy.

May you live with ease.

Send loving-kindness to a difficult person

two people fighting and upset

Okay, here’s the tricky one. We’re going to do a difficult person and let me advise you not to pick the most difficult person; I would take Genghis Khan and Pol Pot off the table. Maybe go with somebody who’s mildly annoying.

And generating goodwill for this person doesn’t mean you hope that they continue to be mildly annoying, that you need to like them, or even invite them over for dinner. 

As the great Sharon Salzburg often quips, just check it out in your own mind, how does it feel to walk around in a cloud of resentment and anger? It’s rarely useful for me at least.

So bring to mind the difficult person. 

May you be happy. Happy people generally aren’t destructive or annoying. May you be actually happy.

May you be safe and protected from any harm. People who feel safe generally behave well.

May be healthy and strong. Ditto.

May you live with ease in the face of whatever comes up in your mind.

Are you getting the self-interest here? This is not capitulation resignation, being a doormat. This is recognizing that—as my meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein says—everybody’s just acting out their stuff, including you. 

Everybody is generally doing their best. You don’t have to approve of what they’re doing but you don’t have to burden yourself with the extra weight of hatred.

Send loving-kindness to all beings

pink night sky galaxy timelapse

The final category is all beings everywhere. I usually kind of just generate an image of planet Earth, sometimes planet Earth within the larger cosmos.

May we all be happy.

May we all be safe and protected from harm.

May we all be healthy and strong.

May we all live with ease.

I get it, this practice can feel forced, but I refer you back to the robust science around it, and I could just tell you in my N of 1 experience, having done it for a few years, reasonably intensively, it’s very helpful.

Thank you.

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