Loving-Kindness Meditation -- A Queen of Hearts?: A Physio-Phenomenological Investigation on the Variety of Experience
Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is a popular contemplative mental practice. Its purpose is to cultivate feelings of compassion, love, and prosocial motivation, typically through inner visual imagery and benevolent intentions. Previous studies have revealed evidence for various constructive effects of LKM. It remains an open question, however, whether the effects of LKM are exclusively positive in all practitioners. To tackle this question, we collected 55 microphenomenological interviews (MpIs) reflecting subjective experiences during LKM. Furthermore, we obtained psychological and biological (oxytocin, cortisol) inter-individual difference measures during a nine-month, longitudinal, mental training study. LKM was predominantly described in positive affective terms and associated with cortisol decrease in accordance with the natural diurnal decline, which reflects its generally non-stressful nature. However, five participants reported experiences such as panic, sadness, and fear. Emotional challenge, as indicated by negative word use during MpIs, was linked to lower scores of self-kindness and higher scores of selfcompassionate mindfulness.
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