Five Reasons Loving-Kindness Practice Is Perfect for Hard Days

When I teach compassion, one of the things I always say is that the giver of compassion is the first person to benefit. This is true from a scientific standpoint; the act of compassion causes the release of the hormones associated with satisfaction, love, and connection. Life experience has also helped me learn the truth of this idea too.

On hard days, my favorite meditation practice is loving-kindness. This practice is one intended to help you expand your heart and send kind wishes out. It starts with yourself and your inner circle, then expands to neutral and difficult people, and even the whole world. The end result, as I have often found, is that my dark and stormy mood turns to gratitude, openness, and even hope.

Here are the five reasons why loving-kindness practice helps.

1. It Feels Good.

On hard days, it makes sense to take care of ourselves. Think about some of the typical things you might do in order to care for yourself on a hard day. It might be taking a warm bath, making a nice cup of tea, wrapping yourself in a warm blanket, talking to a friend, or taking a a walk. The pattern with all of these things is that they are all comforting, soothing, warming, nourishing, and supportive.

Loving-kindness practice is too. For one thing, it starts with sending kindness to yourself and tending to your own needs. Then it moves on to connect with your loved ones and ultimately the whole of humanity. It’s not intended only as a mental exercise either. The object of the practice is to cultivate feelings of loving-kindness.

If you give yourself time and pay attention, you will find that love feels good. It feels warm, open, expansive, and soothing. Though it might be hard to transition to such a practice on a hard day, it is a perfect one for a hard day for this reason.

2. It’s a Sneaky Gratitude Practice.

We all know the studies about gratitude. It is good for your mental health. It grounds you and connects you which might be great on a hard day. The only problem is, of course, that gratitude on a hard day can be a challenge.

Have you ever experienced difficulty and had a well-meaning loved one tell you to “be grateful” or to “think of all of your blessings”? How does that go? My experience is that it usually feels like a deflection and leads to hostility. Forcing yourself to feel good when you feel bad does not work.

Loving-kindness is not about force. It’s just about well wishes. And after you send those wishes to yourself, the practice guides you to a loved one and then a mentor. Gratitude is not the intent of the practice but that is almost always what I feel. I also remember that I am not alone in facing whatever hardship is there.

I call this a “sneaky” gratitude practice because it’s not a goal of the practice. Because I let the pressure come off with loving-kindness, I find gratitude often emerges on its own.

3. It Reminds Me of My Place in the World.

Have you ever noticed how your mind shifts and morphs on hard days? It can make everything seem terrible, bad, and rotten. It can make you think only bad things about yourself and others. It can also cause you to doubt yourself and believe goodness is not possible and change will never come.

Loving-kindness practice gets away from judgments and abstractions. It returns to where you are. It starts with envisioning yourself and what you do in the world and then envisioning the people in your life. In other words, before you try to send love out to the world, the practice embeds in your family and community.

What I find with this practice is that it reminds me of my place in the world. I may not be able to change the news cycle or the government or even the results in a particular case. The practice shows me, however, that I can show care to myself, my family, and even avoid doing extra harm to the people I find challenging. I see this as reminding me of my daily work and my everyday power.

4. It’s So Flexible.

One of these barriers is that many people struggle with sending loving-kindness to themselves. In addition, the later stages of practice call for you to send kind wishes out to “difficult people” and strangers. This might be a challenge on easy days and feel impossible on hard days.

The good news? The traditional practice can be modified in so many ways to account for these issues. You can start with a loved on first and omit the difficult people, as in the practice I share at the end of this post. This isn’t a destruction of the practice. It’s a recognition that we are human and have needs and limits.

In fact, even if you do a traditional loving-kindness practice with the whole list of people, the guidance typically is to not try to send kind wishes to your worst enemy first. In addition, you can even change the phrases to suit your particular needs best. The practice is intended to be flexible and individuated.

On a hard day when our thoughts are heavy, modifying loving-kindness practice is a way to meet ourselves where we are. This act of loving-kindness, you will likely find, is a condition that may help you cultivate more kindness for others over time.

5. It Helps Me Offer What Is Needed.

It’s comparatively easy to mirror back the emotion we are picking up from the rest of the world. When we have a hard day, it is so natural to stay with all the hard emotions that come with it. And in life, when we are greeted with hostility and judgment it’s so simple to just mirror that emotion and send it back.

One thing about meditation that has been a huge change is the recognition that I don’t have to do this, at least not every time. Sometimes, I have found, I am able to pick up a lot of emotion from circumstances, others, or my own head, and I can choose something else. On really special occasions, I can make the choice to offer what is needed and it has made all the difference.

On a hard day, what is needed? Most of the time, it is love and kindness though of course we need to remember that love and kindness can and should include firm action. I like loving-kindness as a practice on hard days because it is practicing offering what is needed in the world. It helps me find hope, courage, and stability on days when those are in short supply.

These are the reasons I come back to loving-kindness practice on hard days. If you want to try the practice for yourself, check out the Cultivating Kindness and Sending It Out Guided Meditation. This one is crafted for hard days because it starts with your loved ones and then turns to yourself before sending kindness out. You can check it out on YouTube or on Insight Timer.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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