Loving-Kindness Meditation and the Gamma Wave – A Marriage of Ancient Tradition and Modern Science

Of all the brainwave frequencies displayed by the human brain, perhaps the most fascinating is the Gamma wave, around 40 Hertz. When in a Gamma state, the brain seems capable of remarkable synergy, exhibiting a high level of holistic functioning that unites multiple senses, perceptions, and memories. In short, we become almost super-human. Interestingly, this state is commonly observed in experienced Tibetan monks engaging in a “loving-kindness” meditation. As we shall see, Gamma waves are not the only benefit of this practice.

What Is Loving-Kindness Meditation?

Loving-kindness, or Metta Bhavana in Buddhist terms, is an ancient practice intended to teach us that happiness comes from loving others and empathizing with them. It is actually the foundational meditation in a four-part series, with the next steps being compassion (empathy for the suffering of others); empathetic joy (rejoicing in the well-being of others); and equanimity (acceptance of both joy and suffering, whether our own or of others). Loving-kindness creates harmony in our relationship with ourselves as well as with others, replacing anger, resentment, and hurt with patience, consideration, and forgiveness.

Since we are looking at the effects of loving-kindness from a more scientific viewpoint as well, it is worth noting that no less a scientist than Albert Einstein essentially prescribed the same practice:

A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

How to Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation

The cultivation of loving-kindness starts with what should be the easiest subject – yourself – and works up from there in the following progression:

  • Yourself
  • A good friend
  • A neutral person, like someone who serves you in a store
  • Someone with whom you are having problems
  • All sentient beings

Various techniques are employed to cultivate the feeling of loving-kindness. Visualize yourself or the other person being happy and smiling back at you. Reflect upon that person’s positive qualities. Use your own affirmations to reinforce feelings of warmth towards yourself and others. And use mantras, repeating words or phrases like “loving-kindness,” pausing between repetitions to observe the impact on your emotions. It is advised that you refrain from thinking about people to whom you are romantically attracted, since lust is not the emotion we are seeking to arouse!

The ultimate objective was expressed beautifully by one of the leading websites on Buddhism, wildmind.org: “Eventually we want to become like an emotional bonfire: a steady blaze of emotional warmth that will embrace any sentient being that we become aware of.”

A New Twist

While several prominent guides to Buddhist meditation recommend guided meditation CDs, they do not seem to have grasped the potential of adding brainwave entrainment techniques to the audio soundtrack. This is almost certainly because they are approaching meditation from a traditional, Buddhist perspective, including the recitation of prayers written by the Buddha himself. But we should not necessarily allow respect for traditions that are over 2,500 years old to blind us to the teachings of modern science. If we can see from EEG scans of experienced meditators that loving-kindness gives rise to Gamma waves, would it not make sense to encourage their formation? Listening to brainwave audio designed to entrain Gamma waves need not distract in any way from the familiar processes of visualization and affirmation. In fact, I believe it enhances the process tremendously by both increasing focus and encouraging whole-brain thinking and feeling. And that has to be good news, for the world really doesn’t need to wait one day longer for more love and compassion.