Secular Meditation

A Guide from the Humanist Community at Harvard

Loving-Kindness Meditation Video and Script

Loving-kindness meditation is a practice done regularly at the Humanist Community at Harvard. Although derived from Buddhism, we have secularized it so that the meditation is suitable for people of no religion or any religion. From the humanist perspective, loving-kindness practice is simply a technique to trick your brain into caring about someone you may not have cared for before.

The video above will lead you through a loving-kindness meditation. Below is a script you can use.

Step One

With eyes closed, you bring to mind a benefactor, someone for whom you have warm feelings. You express your good will toward that person in words that stir your emotions. Because it’s gender-neutral, we’ll use the pronoun “you” below to refer to this individual. Silently say: 

I’d like you 

          to be safe,

          to be healthy,

          to be happy,

          to be at ease in the world.

These words don’t have magical powers that reach across space, but they do have the power to change your brain. The first thing you notice when you think these words is that it feels really good. Even though that person is not present, you begin to feel the warm glow of an emotional connection.

Step Two

The next person you express warm wishes to is yourself. Though people tend to be self-conscious about this, there’s nothing wrong with caring for yourself.Silently say:

I’d like

          to be safe,

          to be healthy,

          to be happy,

          to be at ease in the world.

Step Three

Turn your attention toward someone whom you do not love. Start with someone you barely give a second thought to — the person who served you coffee this morning at Dunkin’ Donuts. Think about that person and repeat the loving-kindness phrases. Because of the emotion built up in prior steps, you may feel a surprising amount of warmth toward this person. Silently say:

I’d like them 

          to be safe,

          to be healthy,

          to be happy,

          to be at ease in the world.

Step Four

Now comes the challenging part. You think of a difficult person — perhaps a difficult co-worker — and repeat the loving-kindness phrases. Although challenging, this may well soften your feelings toward this person. 

Silently say:

I’d like them 

          to be safe,

          to be healthy,

          to be happy,

          to be at ease in the world.

This trick most likely works because of lingering effects of hormones, such as oxytocin and vasopressin, that are released in the brain when people feel love and connection. These brain chemicals persist in the brain for minutes after being released. Therefore, when you shift your thoughts from a loved one to a not-so-loved one, these hormones bias your feelings in a positive direction. Furthermore, the experience becomes part of your memory, so that the next time you see the “difficult” person, they might not “push your buttons” as much..

The purpose of this practice is not to be Pollyannaish and avoid confronting injustice. On the contrary, with loving-kindness, gentle people can confront those who produce suffering while being mindful of their humanity. When we overcome feelings of disgust and hatred toward those with whom we are in conflict, we can deal with them in a more rational manner. That is certainly an appropriate goal for humanists.

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