Christopher Germer, Mindful Self-Compassion
  

Meditations :: Instructions for Self-Compassion Meditation

Most of the following meditations, as well as guidance for practicing them, can be found in The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions

This material is intended for your personal use; please do not copy or distribute without permission of The Guilford Press. Thank you.

Loving-Kindness Meditation for Beginners

Please set aside 20 minutes for the purpose of bringing warmth and good will into your life. Sit in a comfortable position, reasonably upright and relaxed. Fully or partially close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths to settle into your body and into the present moment.

Bring to mind a person or other living being who naturally makes you smile. This could be a child, your grandmother, your cat or dog—whomever naturally brings happiness to your heart. (If you can’t think of a living being, try to remember a place where you felt happy and at ease.) Let yourself feel what it’s like to be in that being’s presence. Allow yourself to enjoy the good company.

Now, recognize how vulnerable this loved one is—just like you, subject to sickness, aging, and death. Also, this being wishes to be happy and free from suffering, just like you and every other living being. Repeat softly and gently, feeling the importance of your words:

May you be safe.
May you be peaceful.
May you be healthy.
May you live with ease.

When you notice that your mind has wandered, return to the words and the image of the loved one you have in mind. Savor any warm feelings that may arise. Go slow.

Now add yourself to your circle of good will. Put your hand over your heart, feel the warmth of your hand, and say:

May you and I be safe.
May you and I be peaceful.
May you and I be healthy.
May you and I live with ease.

Visualize your whole body in your mind’s eye, notice any stress or uneasiness that may be lingering within you, and offer kindness to yourself.

May I be safe.
May I be peaceful.
May I be healthy.
May I live with ease.

Now take a few breaths and just rest sit quietly in your own body, savoring the good will and compassion that flows naturally from your own heart. Know that you can return to the phrases anytime you wish.

Gently open your eyes.

 

Loving-Kindness (metta) Meditation

There are traditionally six categories of people with whom we train ourselves in the art of loving-kindness. The trick is to start with an easy target, reinforce the loving-kindness habit, and work up from there.

1. Self – Your personal identity, usually located within the skin.

2. Benefactor – Someone who makes you consistently smile, such as a mentor, a child, a spiritual guide, a pet, or a piece of nature.

3. Friend –A supportive person toward whom you feel trust and gratitude and have mostly positive feelings.

4. Neutral – Any living being whom you don’t know and therefore neither like nor dislike.

5. Difficult– Someone who has caused you pain, or toward whom you have negative feelings.

6. Groups – Any group of living beings, e.g., everybody listed above, everyone in your home, workplace, or city.

 

Loving-Kindness: For Yourself

To begin, please set aside 20 minutes for the purpose of giving yourself loving attention. Sit in a comfortable position, reasonably upright and relaxed. Close your eyes and bring your attention to the heart region of your body. Now take three slow, easy breaths from the heart.

Form an image of yourself sitting down. Note your posture on the chair as if you were seeing yourself from the outside. Feel the sensations in your body as you sit.

Recall that every living being wants to live peacefully and happily. Connect with that deep wish: “Just as all beings wish to be happy and free from suffering, may I be happy and free from suffering.” Let yourself feel the warmth of that loving intention.

Now, keeping an image of yourself sitting in the chair and feeling good will in your heart, repeat the following phrases silently and gently:

May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live with ease.

Let each phrase mean what it says. If necessary, repeat one phrase a few times for the sake of clarity. You can also repeat just one word of a phrase—“safe…safe…safe”—to experience the meaning.

Take your time. Keep an image of yourself in your mind’s eye, enjoy your loving heart, and savor the meaning of the words. When you notice that your mind has wandered, which it will do after a few seconds, repeat the phrases again. If the words become meaningless, revisualize yourself in the chair and offer yourself the phrases again. If both the image of yourself sitting and the words become vague or blurry, put your hand on your heart and recall your intention to fill yourself with loving-kindness: “Just as all beings wish to be happy and free from suffering, may I be happy and free from suffering.” Then return to the phrases. Whenever you feel lost, return to the phrases.

Let this exercise be easy. Don’t try too hard. Loving-kindness is the most natural thing in the world. Distractions will always arise, and when you notice them, let them go and return to the phrases. When your attention wanders, return to giving love to yourself. Sitting with yourself is like sitting with a dear friend who’s not feeling well; you may not cure your friend, but you’ll have offered the kindness he or she deserves.

Now gently open your eyes.

 

Loving-Kindness: For the Benefactor

This meditation will take 20 minutes. Begin metta meditation as for yourself: bring your attention to your heart region, take a few breaths, form an image of yourself in the sitting position, and recall that all beings wish to be happy and free from suffering. Then start repeating the phrases for yourself for 5 minutes or begin straightaway with your benefactor.

Bring the benefactor’s image clearly to mind and let yourself feel what it’s like to be in that person’s presence. Allow yourself to enjoy the good company. Also, recognize how vulnerable your benefactor is--just like you, subject to sickness, old age, and death.

Say to yourself, “Just as I wish to be happy and free from suffering, may you be happy and free from suffering.”

Repeat softly and gently, feeling the importance of your words:

May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you live with ease.

When you notice that your mind has wandered, return to the words and the image of your benefactor. Linger with any warm feelings that may arise. Go slow. If you want to return to yourself, feel free do that at any time and then switch back to your benefactor when you’re ready.

After 20 minutes, and before you end the meditation, say:

May I and all beings be safe.
May I and all beings be happy.
May I and all beings be healthy.
May I and all beings live with ease.

Gently open your eyes.

 

Loving-Kindness: For the Difficult Person

This meditation takes about 20 minutes. Prepare for meditation in the usual manner and begin repeating the loving-kindness phrases for yourself and/or your benefactor for about 5 minutes.

Now bring an image of your “difficult person” to mind. Remind yourself that the difficult person is struggling to find his or her way through life and, in so doing, is causing you pain. Say to yourself, “Just as I wish to be peaceful and free from suffering, may you, too, find inner peace.”

Repeat the phrases softly, keeping the image of the difficult person in your mind while sensing the value of your words:

May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you live with ease.

Feelings of aversion, disgust, anger, guilt, shame, or sadness will immediately arise. The phrases may sound hollow alongside these emotions. Give a label to the emotion you’re feeling (“sadness,” “anger”) and practice compassion for yourself (“May I be safe…”). When you feel better, try again with your difficult person. 99% of loving-kindness meditation for the difficult person may actually be compassion meditation for oneself.

Feel free to use self-compassion phrases like:

May I be kind to myself.
May I accept myself as I am.

Go back and forth between yourself (or your benefactor) and the difficult person. Make sure the experience of good will describes your meditation session overall.

Before you end, release the difficult person and say:

May I and all beings be safe.
May I and all beings be happy.
May I and all beings be healthy.
May I and all beings live with ease.

Gently open your eyes.

 

Loving-Kindness Meditation with Self-Compassion

Please set aside 20 minutes for the purpose of soothing yourself in the midst of difficult or stressful times. Sit in a comfortable position, reasonably upright and relaxed. Fully or partially close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths to settle into your body and into the present moment. Put your hand on your heart for a moment to remind yourself of the innate good will that all living beings feel toward themselves.

Form an image of yourself sitting down. Note your posture on the chair as if you were seeing yourself from the outside.

Now bring your attention inside your body and feel the pulsation and vibration of your body. Locate your breathing where you can feel it most easily. Feel how your breath moves in your body, and when your attention wanders, gently feel the movement of your breath once again.

After a few minutes, start to notice areas of stress that you’re holding in your body, perhaps in your neck, jaw, belly, or forehead. Also notice if you’re holding some difficult emotions, such as worry about the future or uneasiness about the past. Understand that every human body bears stress and worry throughout the day.

Now offer yourself goodwill because of what you’re holding in your body right now. Say the following phrases to yourself, softly and gently:

May I be safe.
May I be peaceful.
May I be kind to myself.
May I accept myself as I am.

When you notice that your mind has wandered, return to the words or the experience of discomfort in your body or mind. Go slow.

If you are ever overwhelmed with emotion, you can always return to your breathing. You can also name the emotion, or find it in the physical body and soften that area. Then, when you’re comfortable, return to the phrases.

Finally, take a few breaths and just rest sit quietly in your own body, savoring the good will and compassion that flows naturally from your own heart. Know that you can return to the phrases anytime you wish.

Gently open your eyes.

 

Compassionate Image Meditation

This meditation is adapted from Gilbert, P. (2009). The Compassionate Mind. London: Constable. It utilizes visualization to evoke a soothing state of mind. This meditation can be practiced for 5-30 minutes.

Sit in a comfortable position, reasonably upright and relaxed. Fully or partially close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths to settle into your body and into the present moment.

First, bring to mind safe place—a place of refuge where you feel peaceful, calm, and at rest. It could be a grove of trees, a place at the seashore, or a favorite corner in your home. It can be either imaginary or real. Pick any location that induces a contented, relaxed state. When you have a place, use all your senses to contemplate it in your mind’s eye. What are the colors? How bright is it? What sounds or smells are there?

Next, find an image of an ideally caring and compassionate figure, someone who embodies the qualities of wisdom, strength, warmth and unconditional acceptance. For some this may be a known religious figure like Christ or the Buddha. For others it may be someone they have known in the past who was very compassionate, like a favorite aunt or a teacher. For still others it might be an animal, a completely imaginary being or a character in a movie, or even an abstract image like a white light. Try to see this image as vividly as possible, incorporating as many of the senses as you can.

If you are suffering in some way right now, think what your ideal source of compassion would say to you to comfort you right now. How would its voice sound, what feelings would be conveyed in its tone? If you’re feeling a bit numb or shut-down, simply let yourself be in the presence of your ideal image, just allowing yourself to be there. Whenever your mind wanders, just call your kindly visitor to mind again and again.

Now release your compassionate image, take a few breaths, and rest sit quietly in your own body, savoring the comfort and ease that you generated in your own mind and body. Know that you can recollect this image anytime you wish.

Gently open your eyes.

 

Compassionate Walking

Plan to walk for 10 minutes or longer, anywhere you like. Dedicate the time specifically to cultivating loving-kindness and compassion.

Stand still for a moment and anchor your attention in your body. Be aware of yourself in the standing posture. Feel your body.

Recall that every living being wants to live peacefully and happily. Connect with that deep wish: “Just as all beings wish to be happy and free from suffering, may I be happy and free from suffering.”

Begin walking. Note yourself moving through space in the upright position. Feel the sensations of your body, perhaps noting the pressure of your feet on the ground or the wind in your face. Keep your eyes softly focused and walk at a normal pace.

After walking for a few minutes, repeat the loving-kindness phrases to yourself:

May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live with ease.

The phrases will keep your attention anchored in your body and start to evoke the attitude of loving-kindness.

Try to synchronize the phrases with each step or with each breath. It may help to shorten the phrases to a single word: “safe, happy, healthy, ease” or “love, love, love, love.”

When your mind wanders, gently return to the phrases. If you find yourself hastening to your destination, slow down and refocus on your purpose.

Do this with kindness, especially a feeling of gratitude toward your feet for supporting your entire body. Appreciate the marvel of walking.

After a few minutes, expand loving-kindness to others. When someone catches your attention, say to yourself:

May you and I be safe.
May you and I be happy.
May you and I be healthy.
May you and I live with ease.

You also say “May you be safe….” or just “safe…happy… healthy…ease” or “love…love… love…love.” Don’t try to include everyone; just do it one person at a time, keeping the attitude of loving-kindness alive.

Eventually include all forms of life in the circle of your loving-kindness, e.g., dogs, birds, insects, and plants.

Allow yourself to receive any expressions of kindness that may come your way.

At the end of the walking period, stand still for a moment and repeat “May all beings be happy and free from suffering” before you go on to your next activity.

 

Mindful Self-Compassion Meditation

Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and take three, deep, relaxing breaths.

Open your awareness to the sounds in your environment. Come into the present moment by simply listening to whatever presents itself to your ears.

Form an image of yourself sitting in the chair. Note your posture as if you were seeing yourself from the outside.

Next, bring your awareness inside your body. Note the world of sensation occurring there in this very moment.

Now feel your breathing wherever it’s most obvious to you. Pay special attention to every out-breath. (Use a different anchor for you attention if you feel more comfortable doing so.)

Replace your out-breath with the loving-kindness phrases. For the next few minutes, slowly repeat the phrases, returning now and again to an image of yourself sitting in the chair.

Gently open your eyes.

 

Centering Meditation

Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and take a few deep, relaxing breaths.

Notice your posture—sitting, not lying down, not standing—and feel any sensations in your body. If you have any physical discomfort, gently touch it with your awareness. If you have emotional distress, notice it and let it be there.

Now bring attention to your breathing, wherever you feel it most strongly. Nostrils? Chest? Belly? When your mind wanders, gently return to the sensation of breathing. As you breathe, let your awareness move deeply into the experience of breathing. Do this for 5-10 minutes.

The breath comes seemingly out of nowhere—it’s actually breathing you, keeping you healthy even when you’re fast asleep. Go deeply into the breath, to the source of the breath. Let your awareness drop into the deep, empty space from which breathing emerges, from which the faintest movement originates. This place, beyond thoughts and words, is a field of great peace and freedom.

Just continue to breathe and open your awareness to the source of your breath. As you do so, listen for any words that may bubble up. Open yourself up to a word or a phrase that might be just what you need to hear right now. If a word or phrase were to appear from the bottom of your heart, what would it be?

Take a few minutes to do this. Breathe, relax, and open yourself to words that might bubble up from deep inside. If no words arise, just stay with your breath. If a few words arise, roll them over in your mind and select one that’s perfect for you at this time in your life. Some possibilities might be “love,” “let it be,” “I love you,” “yes,” “trust,” “peace” or “mercy.”

When you have a word or phrase, allow yourself to savor it, rolling it over and over in your mind. If you notice that your mind has wandered, bring it ever so gently back to the word or words.

After a while, let go of what you’re doing and simply be with your inner experience, letting yourself be just as you are.

Slowly open your eyes.

 

Compassionate Breathing In and Out

This meditation is adapted from Pennington, B. (1982). Centering Prayer: Renewing an ancient Christian prayer form. Garden City, NY: Image Books.

This meditation is derived from the Tibetan practice of “giving and taking” (tonglen). In that meditation, the practitioner inhales the pain and suffering of another individual and exhales kindness and compassion. This process subtly reverses our instinctive tendency to resist or avoid emotional discomfort which usually leads to greater suffering. Compassionate breathing in and out adds the medicine of compassion to each inhalation. This meditation can be practiced formally or informally throughout the day for any length of time.

Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and take a few relaxing breaths.

Scan your body for physical stress, noting the location and quality of the discomfort. Also allow yourself to become aware of any stressful emotions that you may be holding in your field of awareness. If a challenging person comes to mind, let yourself be aware of the stress associated with that person. If you are experiencing the suffering of another person through empathy, let yourself be aware of that discomfort as well.

Now, aware of the stress you are carrying in your body, inhale fully and deeply, drawing compassion inside your body and filling every cell in your body with compassion. Let yourself be soothed by inhaling deeply, and by giving yourself the compassion you deserve when you experience discomfort.

As you exhale, send out compassion to the person who is associated with your discomfort, or exhale compassion to living beings in general.

Continue breathing compassion in and out. Occasionally scan your inner landscape for any distress and respond by inhaling compassion for yourself and exhaling compassion for those who need it.

Gently open your eyes.