The Synergies between Mindfulness and Loving-kindness
Éowyn Ahlstrom, MEd, Assistant Director, Community and Online Programs and Instructor
“The starting place for a radical re-imagining of love is mindfulness,” according to renowned author and pioneering meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg.
These days, both mindfulness and love, as in compassion or loving kindness, receive significant attention. Researchers and academics study their mechanisms, including those here at the Mindfulness Center. Media outlets of all varieties write and share articles about them. And, perhaps most importantly, many ordinary people practice accessing and strengthening them with daily practices.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR), notes that "…we human beings… are united in our common aspiration to be happy and not to suffer." No wonder we're so interested in both love and mindfulness! To put it simply, love can help us feel safe and happy, and mindfulness can help us learn to love in ways that support our well-being.
This said, love and friendship often feel complicated, even difficult. We look to our loved ones and friends for happiness, and while we sometimes find it there, we also, at times, find pain and frustration in our relationships.
So how can we begin to experience love in ways that contribute to our flourishing? One approach - and a highly relevant one for mindfulness practitioners - is to bring our wish for love and friendship together with our intention to be aware, to be mindful.
It's a matter of both knowing our hearts and training our hearts. Mindfulness, by seeing clearly, can help us grow healthy love. The process goes something like this:
- Knowing we cannot transform something we are unaware of, we bring curious attention to our hearts and minds.
- With awareness, we begin gently inclining toward care, patience and respect for ourselves and others.
Or, in the words of Brené Brown, “we cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.”
This isn't necessarily an easy undertaking, especially when we feel tired, impatient or irritated, but in my experience, it is deeply worthwhile. And, fortunately, we don't have to be experts to start to feel benefits. We just need the simple willingness to begin, make mistakes with it, learn from what we notice, and begin again.
Additionally, we may need support from others who share our interest in this process. Here are two offerings from the Mindfulness Center that can help:
In MBSR, we consider formal meditation practices to be something like workouts for our minds and hearts. Here is a guided meditation that supports deepening our innate capacity for kindness toward ourselves and others.
Opportunities to Connect and Learn
Ranging from free community drop-in sessions to retreats and more, please consider joining us online or in-person. Participating in a program provides a structure and support for learning and applying the methods above.