dbt group notes: Loving Kindness and Non-Attachment

MINDFULNESS

Anger, hate, hostility and ill will towards ourselves and others can be very painful. The practice of loving kindness is a form of meditation that involves reciting specific positive words and phrases repeatedly, to cultivate compassion and loving feelings as an antidote to negativity.

This is one of many available loving kindness meditations. It presents the very traditional version of the guided practice. If you are uncomfortable closing your eyes for the meditation, you can try softly engaging with the imagery. Or close your eyes and visualize as instructed. You will find other variations of this guided meditation in the homework section.

LOVING KINDNESS MEDITATION

This little video may be a useful warm up for the longer form Loving Kindness Meditation. Its simply an opportunity to summon feelings of love and extend them to your beloved animal, person or religious figure. A Heart Practice that just takes a minute.

The loving kindness meditation comes to us from Buddhist practice, but it is appropriate to most spiritual practices. It is about an opening of the heart. Its a practice of sending warm loving wishes to yourself and others.

From the DBT Skills Training Manual by Marsha Linehan:

LOVING KINDNESS: WHY DO IT?

1. Ill Will, Hate and Anger toward Self and others Can Be Wearing

Strong Negative Emotions can be corrosive psychologically; they can also have negative physical effects, such as raising blood pressure and increasing risk of heart attacks.

2. Loving Kindness Reduces Self-Hate

Hating oneself is extremely painful. Loving Kindness focuses on reducing self-hate. Besides being painful all by themselves, hate, anger and disgust directed at yourself make it much more difficult to take good care of yourself. Self-hate can lead to an attitude that you don’t deserve positive events, soothing, or even your rights to be upheld. In turn, this attitude can complicate depression, increase feelings of inadequacy, and decrease feelings of worth and efficacy.

3. Ill Will, Hate and Anger Interfere with Interpersonal Effectiveness

It is much more difficult to live, work, and negotiate with persons you have difficult relationships with. Loving kindness can help you improve these relationships.

Don’t just take Marsha’s word for it! These clips from a summit on the intersection between traditional Tibetan Buddhist compassion practices and recent discoveries in Neuroscience features the Dalai Lama and top neuroscientists from around the country.

RESEARCH POINT: Data suggest that a daily practice of loving kindness works to increase daily experiences of positive emotions (including love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, interest, amusement and awe) and to decrease negative emotions. The practice of loving kindness increases social connectedness, and mounting research suggests that it has potential as an effective psychological intervention. Neuroimaging studies suggest also that loving kindness practice is associated with increased activation of brain areas involved with emotional processing and empathy. Over time, these positive emotions predict both increased satisfaction with life and reduced depressive symptoms. In addition, daily practice of loving kindness can also increase self-acceptance and improve relationships over time.

DEVELOPING YOUR OWN LOVING KINDNESS PRACTICE

In developing your own loving kindness practice, it is important that the phrases you select, your “wishes” for yourself and others can be spoken with great sincerity. You want to work with 3 or 4 phrases. Its traditional to repeat those phrases each three times to yourself and the other. But depending on the amount of time you have, you can vary as needed.

  • Start by sending the wishes to the person or being that is easy to love.
  • Then send the wishes to someone you love, but its complicated.
  • Then send wishes to a neutral person.
  • Then send wishes to someone very difficult that you have very negative feelings towards.
  • Then send wishes to the world. To all beings everywhere.
  • Then send these wishes to yourself.

I Invite you to pick three phrases from this list of sample phrases. Or develop some of your own that feel right for you. Try them out. Be sure the phrases you choose resonant with you. Its important that you can say them authentically for people you love, people you are neutral about, people you don’t like at all, and for yourself.   

Practice with three of those phrases.

Or try out some of the Loving Kindness Videos that I have posted below.

Loving Kindness is something you can practice formally to start your day. Many mindfulness practitioners alternate following the breath one day, and then practicing loving kindness the next. Or you can drop into it any time you need it.

MINDFULNESS AND WISE MIND FROM A SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVE

Mindfulness practice enables us to increase love and compassion towards ourselves and others. Compassion is one of the hallmarks of being in wise mind. It is difficult to find any discussion of wise mind or of experiencing reality as it is, of religious or spiritual awakening, or of wisdom or enlightenment without a corresponding discussion of love and compassion.

As you settle more often in wise mind, you will find that you become more tolerant and more likely to radically accept yourself and others, as well as less likely to judge, criticize, and reject yourself and others. The outcome of Wise Mind is a greater capacity for Love–love of others and love of oneself. Compassion makes much more sense once you realize that you and the universe are one. Cutting off your arm is cutting off your friend’s or your neighbor’s arm. Hurting others is hurting yourself.

GOALS OF MINDFULNESS: A SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVE

1. To experience ultimate Reality as it is which leads to a sense of inner spaciousness and awareness of intimate wholeness with the entire universe, the transcendence of boundaries and the ground of our being.

2. To grow in wisdom of heart and action

3. To experience freedom by letting go of attachments to the demands of your own desires, craving, and intense emotions and radically accepting reality as it is.

4. To increase love and compassion towards yourself and others.

Marsha linehan, dbt skills training handouts and worksheets

NON-ATTACHMENT

I made a little video to illustrate an analogy that the buddhist nun, Robina Courtin She uses the love of cake to illustrate that its not actually love. Its just attachment.

In item number three of the Goals of Mindfulness, Marsha is talking about the concept of Non-Attachment from buddhist psychology. The idea is that adopting a state of non-attachment helps us accept the impermanence of all things. The buddha identified impermanence as a great source of human suffering. This is what loss is. All loss is a product of imperminance. Everything is always changing. Everything you have ever loved or cared about will eventually leave or die. This is the tremendously harsh reality of being human. Yet there is a freedom in accepting this.

To be clear, accepting this is not easy. And it doesn’t mean you won’t experience grief and disappointment and all of those feelings. Because yes, in life there will be great pain. Unavoidable pain. But to adopt a stance of non-attachment and acceptance of impermanence may give you that tiny bit of breathing room that relieves some of your suffering. This is not meant to diminish the pain of loss or invalidate it, but simply to give you a conceptual and felt framework for easing suffering.

ROBINA COURTIN ON LOVE VS ATTACHMENT

In order to understand non-attachment, it is helpful to understand the difference, from a buddhist perspective, between Love And Attachment. Robina Courtin, an ex punk rocker turned buddhist Nun from Australia (who I find delightful in her mix of eclectic wisdom and humor) gives a wonderful lecture on Love and Attachment.

CAN YOU LOVE WITHOUT ATTACHMENT?

Love without attachment means that you observe your thoughts and emotions with eyes wide open. Love can be a powerful thing, however being non attached means whether your relationship is good or bad, you know you can walk away when it is no longer necessary to be in the relationship.

Non-attachment means that you are able to live your life outside of the other person; it ultimately takes pressure off and allows you to be without depending on anything or anyone to feed your soul. Clinging onto things—relationships, jobs, materials goods—simply does not make sense considering their evolving nature.

And this is where the beautiful concept of non-attachment comes in to play. To be clear, non-attachment does NOT equal indifference. In fact, to love without attachment or condition is one of the most loving and compassionate things we can do for a person for whom we care DEEPLY. This is because when we love someone without clinging to them, and obsessing over them, and projecting our fears and issues on to them, we are recognising that we alone are responsible for our wellbeing and happiness.

We are not obligating another with what is ours – we are doing the opposite. We are willing to love with the full knowledge that one day the partnership may end, as all things eventually end. We know that we will go through uncertainty and pain and loss and heartache, yet because we understand that nothing external is ever really permanent, we look inside ourselves for the love and validation we crave. We learn to embrace this love as we know that it is truly unconditional and can never be taken from us. With this certainty, we then make the decision to love others WITHOUT FEAR.

RELATIONSHIPS DON’T FAIL, THEY COMPLETE

This non-attachment approach to Love creates an expansiveness. And connects well with the idea that when a relationship ends, there doesn’t have to be shame of failure. It need not be considered a failure at all. Merely a completion. We all grow and change. We come together with friends, lovers, mentors for a period of time because we bring something into each other’s lives. And then we change.

That change doesn’t have to signal failure. The Author Glennon Doyle had written a huge bestseller “Love Warrior” celebrating her marriage. While on her book tour, she announced she was getting divorced. I can hardly imagine how difficult that had to be. The feeling of fraud. Of Embarassment. But it was from Glennon Doyle that I first heard this idea of a marriage completing. She reframed her situation. The end of her marriage was not a failure. The marriage completed.

And I believe her perspective was sincere (I saw her on the book tour in a live interview with Anne Patchett), though it is clear in her book “UnTamed” that she went through a turning of the mind, again and again to help her embrace this perspective.

Utilizing this idea of relationships completing can assist in the process of non-attachment. It frees us from the feelings of failure and worthlessness that the end of a relationship can invite.

HOMEWORK

I invite you to try out some different versions of Loving Kindness Meditation. The videos embedded below vary in length.

This guided Compassion meditation is very different from the Loving Kindness meditations, but I love Tara Brach and thought it might be of interest.
This article by Thich Nhat Hanh is another helpful introduction to compassion practice
Lastly, Robina Courtin’s full lecture on Love vs. Attachment.

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Diana is a licensed professional counselor based in Nashville. She has been teaching DBT skills for the last ten years after writing her master's thesis about making DBT skills training interesting and engaging. She loves using story telling to help illustrate how skills can be used.

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