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Abstract. We explore the role of meditative practice in cultivating experiences of compassion, empathy, and altruism and address an apparent paradox: Meditation often is associated with solitary retreat, if not preoccupation with one's own concerns. How, then, does such a practice promote compassion for others? We propose a two-stage model. The first stage involves disengagement from usual preoccupation with self-reinforcing, self-defeating, or self-indulgent behaviors and reactions; the second involves a focused engagement with a universal human capacity for altruistic experience, love, and compassion. Reference is made to the limited research literature and to clinical applications of loving kindness (metta) meditation in cultivating these processes.

Decentering has been proposed as a potential mechanism of mindfulness-based interventions but has received limited empirical examination to date in experimental studies comparing mindfulness meditation to active comparison conditions. In the present study, we compared the immediate effects of mindful breathing (MB) to two alternative stress-management techniques: progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) and loving-kindness meditation (LKM) to test whether decentering is unique to mindfulness meditation or common across approaches. Novice meditators (190 female undergraduates) were randomly assigned to complete one of three 15-min stress-management exercises (MB, PMR, or LKM) presented by audio recording. Immediately after the exercise, participants completed measures of decentering, frequency of repetitive thoughts during the exercise, and degree of negative reaction to thoughts. As predicted, participants in the MB condition reported greater decentering relative to the other two conditions. The association between frequency of repetitive thought and negative reactions to thoughts was relatively weaker in the MB condition than in the PMR and LKM conditions, in which these two variables were strongly and positively correlated. Consistent with the construct of decentering, the relative independence between these two variables in the MB condition suggests that mindful breathing may help to reduce reactivity to repetitive thoughts. Taken together, results help to provide further evidence of decentering as a potential mechanism that distinguishes mindfulness practice from other credible stress-management approaches.
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Previous voxel-based morphometry (VBM) studies have revealed that meditation is associated with structural brain changes in regions underlying cognitive processes that are required for attention or mindfulness during meditation. This VBM study examined brain changes related to the practice of an emotion-oriented meditation: loving-kindness meditation (LKM). A 3 T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner captured images of the brain structures of 25 men, 10 of whom had practiced LKM in the Theravada tradition for at least 5 years. Compared with novices, more gray matter volume was detected in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri in LKM experts. The right angular gyrus has not been previously reported to have structural differences associated with meditation, and its specific role in mind and cognitive empathy theory suggests the uniqueness of this finding for LKM practice. These regions are important for affective regulation associated with empathic response, anxiety and mood. At the same time, gray matter volume in the left temporal lobe in the LKM experts appeared to be greater, an observation that has also been reported in previous MRI meditation studies on meditation styles other than LKM. Overall, the findings of our study suggest that experience in LKM may influence brain structures associated with affective regulation.

This article discusses how loving-kindness can be used to treat traumatized refugees and minority groups, focusing on examples from our treatment, culturally adapted cognitive-behavioral therapy (CA-CBT). To show how we integrate loving-kindness with other mindfulness interventions and why loving-kindness should be an effective therapeutic technique, we present a typology of mindfulness states and the Nodal Network Model (NNM) of Affect and Affect Regulation. We argue that mindfulness techniques such as loving-kindness are therapeutic for refugees and minority populations because of their potential for increasing emotional flexibility, decreasing rumination, serving as emotional regulation techniques, and forming part of a new adaptive processing mode centered on psychological flexibility. We present a case to illustrate the clinical use of loving-kindness within the context of CA-CBT.