Empathy and loving-kindness: what can it do for you?

Today I want to write about something I came across when learning to practice mindfulness which I thought was extremely strange and funny at the same time. I am sure that many of you will smile when you read this as you might have experienced the same.

I actually want to talk about the “loving-kindness meditation[1] and how it can impact us. The loving-kindness practice is actually an old Buddhist practice called “Metta Bhavana[2] which exists since over 2500 years. It is fairly easy to do as you simply need to direct ‘loving-kindness’ to yourself wishing you happiness, fulfillment, peace (as if you would give yourself a big hug) and then let the feeling envelope you in order to be subsequently able to wish the same to a good friend or dear person, then to a neutral person and finally to a difficult one, eventually opening up to all human beings. Really quite simple in theory but when I first had to do this, I actually found it quite ok to send these wishes to myself and my loved ones but neutral people and then people with whom I had difficult relationships proved to be really a challenge and even somewhat awkward. Funnily, afterwards, every time I saw the ‘neutral person’ or ‘difficult person’ again, I was kind of expecting something extraordinary to take place which of course never really happened… well, over time, as everything, it becomes easier with training and I actually found myself really wishing people happiness and even developing empathy towards persons I did not particularly like. Suddenly, I saw no apparent reason to dislike them anymore, which I thought was rather strange but actually a relief as it did not bother me any longer and I could focus my attention on something else.[3]

Empathy as we know is one major ingredient of building a trustful relationship with somebody else, be it at work or in private life. As soon as we are interested in another person’s life and issues, listening with attention and providing feedback will establish a solid foundation for any further interactions. Being a coach and a leader this truly is essential as without it, the basis of a relationship would be missing, hence the trust.

In summary, for me personally, the loving-kindness meditation is an excellent tool for training patience, receptivity, and appreciation/empathy. It helps me stay open-minded and non-judging, thus facilitates my work in a multicultural and fast paced environment.

You might want to try it out for yourself:

“May I be well”

“May I be happy”

“May I be free from suffering”[4]


[1] See for example this site for a good explanation of what this meditation is all about : http://www.jackkornfield.com/2011/02/meditation-on-lovingkindness/

[2] See ‘Metta’ on Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mett%C4%81

[3] See also Charles A Francis’ site who has developed a variation of the loving-kindness meditation called ‘writing meditation’: http://www.mindfulnessmeditationinstitute.org/what-is-writing-meditation/

[4] Search Inside Yourself, Chade-Meng Tan, p.172.

12 thoughts on “Empathy and loving-kindness: what can it do for you?

  1. wartica

    You can’t ever go wrong with whatever meditation you’re doing at the time ; it will make each one of us more loving and accepting people! Thanks for a great explanation of a timeless art :))

    Reply
    • bxljenny

      Very true! More and more people are spending their lives running and caring only about themselves… it is time to stop and be interested in what your neighbours are doing ;-) thanks for your comment!

      Reply
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  4. Anne Egros, Global Executive Coach

    Your post is very clear and inspirational. Accepting who you are and loving yourself is necessary to truly love others and feel empathy. How can you be emphathetic if you never feel it for yourself ? Going a step further by forgiving people who hurt you and thinking of them with kindness and love is actually very hard to achieve. As you explained very well, you won’t see any changes in others. You can only change your thoughts and free yourself of negative energy. Thank you.

    Reply
    • bxljenny

      Thanks for your excellent comment! I am trying this out nearly every day and it really is not easy to think of people in ‘loving-kindness’ who hurt you or treated you badly. I must say that practicing this even just before meeting with these people really helps. It is as if the negative energy went away and I find myself extremely open and friendly which then doesn’t leave any gound for aggressiveness or negative thought. Amazing! Jenny

      Reply
  5. expatsincebirth

    Thank you, Jenny, for this post. I’ve read it several times, just to remind me before meeting people who usually is not very kind to me. But I find it difficult to be “loving and kind” to people, when they are treating me badly in front of my children – and when I realize that they don’t understand the behaviour of this other person. – I find it very difficult to stay calm then. Do you have any suggestions about how to keep calm? How can I explain this situation to my children?

    Reply
    • bxljenny

      Hi there, thanks a lot for reading my posts :-) it is true that it is not easy to send positive thoughts to people who are usually mean to you… more than a year ago I went through the 8 weeks of MBSR introduction which gives you the tools for practising mindfulness meditation. Since then I practice whenever I can and I have to say that without consciously doing anything I changed and my way of approaching people changed. I found out that the more I did the ‘loving kindness medidation’ before meeting the people I have difficulties with, the more relaxed I am during the meeting and the less the will ‘attack’ me. Although I don’t do anything consciously different, my way of being is different, hence their reactions also are (over time). Even situations, where I knew that I normally would have had an emotional reaction, nothing happened. I remained calm and serene and could not explain it myself. Hence my advice: practice positive thinking and mindfulness as much as you can and you will see that you will change (and your surroundings as well of course). Let me know how you go, happy to coach you! Jenny

      Reply
      • expatsincebirth

        Thanks Jenny, I’ll have to work on that a bit more then. I practice meditation, but I noticed that I was getting anxious about how my children would perceive some “attacks”. But you’re right, if I become different, the others might too and the situations might be different. I’ll let you know how it goes if I’ve met this people the next time ;-)

      • bxljenny

        Yes, please do! Children feel what you feel anyways and the more you relax and the more you explain to them about the situation, the less they will perceive the ‘attacks’ as a threat!

  6. tiramit

    So good to read this post about directing ‘loving-kindness’ towards persons we don’t particularly like. It’s a sign of your skill in practising empathy that you ‘saw no apparent reason to dislike them anymore.’ The only thing I’d add is that if it’s not working – as you say, it can be challenging and awkward – you can have metta for that resistance you’re experiencing too…

    Reply
    • Jenny Ebermann (bxljenny)

      Hi there, thanks for your very wise comment! From my experience I can say that the more I practice this, the easier it is for me. I also try to ‘wish people hapiness’ when I see them and send them positive thoughts. Depending on my mood of the day, this is quite a challenge too, but it really changes the way discussions, meetings etc. go! Looking forward to reading from you again! Jenny

      Reply

Let me know what you think!