Notes on loving-kindness practice (April 16 “Intro to Zen” class)

I’m posting this for those who attended the April 16 “Intro to Zen” class on loving-kindness practice and would like to continue doing the loving-kindness meditation on their own (for those who missed this class, don’t worry; I’ll cover this important practice a number of times in the future):

Two things to keep in mind: (1) during the loving-kindness meditation, remember to breathe into the heartspace (roughly, the area in the center of your chest) and attend closely to the physical sensations of the breath as it moves in and out of the heartspace; (2) keep in mind that the point of loving-kindness practice is not to make yourself feel a particular way — rather, use the lines of the meditation (which are in bold below) to open to your present experience, whatever it may be like (if your heart feels closed or cold or fearful, open to the experience of that, with as much softness and gentleness as you can muster). Loving-kindness practice is not about self-improvement, not about making ourselves “better” people (more loving, more kind, etc.); rather, it’s a practice that invites us to pause our habitual self-aggression. As much as you can, open your own heart with compassion and kindness to whatever your present experience is, even if your present experience is of a heart that feels closed or cold.

Opening lines (repeat — silently to oneself — each line for a few breaths):

  • (As you inhale) Breathing into the heart. (As you exhale) No one to be.
  • (Inhale) Breathing into the heart. (Exhale) Nothing to do.
  • (Inhale) Breathing into the heart. (Exhale) Just being.

First round, to oneself. Remember to breathe in and out of the heartspace. Say (silently, to oneself) each phrase as you exhale. Repeat each phrase for a few breaths before moving on to the next line. Take your time. There’s no rush:

  • May I dwell in the open heart.
  • May I attend to whatever clouds the heart.
  • May I be awake in this moment, just as it is.
  • May the awakened heart be extended to all beings.

Middle round, to a loved one. As you inhale, breath the image/presence of the other person into your heartspace. Say each phrase below as you exhale, directing the sentiments to the loved one. And remember, feel free to repeat each phrase for a few breaths before moving on to the next line. No rush at all:

  • May you dwell in the open heart.
  • May you be healed in your difficulties.
  • May you be awake in this moment, just as it is.
  • May the awakened heart be extended to all beings.

Final round, directed at all beings (same process and rhythms as earlier rounds):

  • May all beings dwell in the open heart.
  • May all beings be healed in their difficulties.
  • May all beings be awake in this moment, just as it is.
  • May the awakened heart be extended to all beings.

Closing lines (repeat each line for a few breaths; again, take your time… no rush at all; nowhere to go, nothing to do… just being):

  • (As you inhale) Breathing into the heart. (As you exhale) No one to be.
  • (Inhale) Breathing into the heart. (Exhale) Nothing to do.
  • (Inhale) Breathing into the heart. (Exhale) Just being.

And now, continue sitting for as long as you like, continuing to breathe into and out of the heartspace. Remember to be aware of the physical sensations of the breath as it goes in and out of the heartspace.

[These instructions are adapted from the sections on loving-kindness practice in Ezra Bayda’s Being Zen and Zen Heart.]