“Mindfulness ….. was never intended to be strictly an awareness or attention – regulation exercise. Take away loving kindness and mindfulness is like being forced to watch a frightening scene, close up, under a bright light. That isn’t an experience that most [people] need to have.” Christopher Germer
Mindfulness allows us to be present with our experience, as people, as therapists and as clients. It allows us to bring difficult material to the surface. It is loving kindness that allows us to process it in a safe way so that the pain doesn’t overwhelm or re-traumatise us.
So how do we coax loving kindness out, instead of following old patterns of beating ourselves up and self-criticism? (Familiar anyone?)
In counselling terms, Carl Rogers (the originator of person centred therapy) spoke of the importance of the therapist showing unconditional positive regard to the client. When we feel this from our therapist it might be the first time we have felt that from another human being, or it might allow us to feel accepted and cared about when we open up about things we feel pain and shame about and have found difficult to open up about. Perhaps we haven’t even talked about them to anyone before.
A good therapist will be able to help the client to feel accepted and cared for. They will radiate loving kindness or unconditional positive regard strongly enough that we notice it and can absorb it. This experience can be very powerful and help us to take that sense of warmth into our own lives – in how we feel about ourselves and how we relate to the people close to us.
Loving Kindness Exercises
If we have a mindfulness practice ourselves we can also try simple practices that encourage loving kindness. Here are two practices to try:
- Whilst sitting in mindfulness, watching your breath for instance, remember a time you looked in the eyes of a small baby and how that felt. That is generally an experience of unconditional acceptance and love…. By paying attention to how that feels we can learn to feel it more.
- Whilst sitting in mindfulness, watching your breath, let a small smile play at edges of your lips. Let that smile build and see how it feels. Perhaps you can also feel a warmth building in your chest or belly. Smiling, even if it is done deliberately, releases feel good chemicals in our nervous system, and this can help us to feel love for ourselves.
And most importantly, don’t take it all too seriously … have some fun!