Loving Kindness Meditation
No man is an Island, entire of it self;His Holiness Swami Advaitananda
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
As well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were;
Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind;
And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
We resonate with one another’s sorrows because we are interconnected. Being whole and simultaneously part of a larger whole, we can change the world simply by changing ourselves. If I become a center of love and kindness in this moment, then in a perhaps small but hardly insignificant way, the world now has a nucleus of love and kindness it lacked the moment before. This benefits me and it benefits others. You may have noticed that you are not always a center of love and kindness, even toward yourself. In fact, in our society, one might speak of an epidemic of low self-esteem.
In conversations with the Dalai Lama during a meeting in Dharamsala in 1990, he did a double take when a Western psychologist spoke of low self-esteem. He required several translations of the phrase into Tibetan, despite having quite good English skills. Struggling to comprehend low self-esteem, he became visibly saddened upon realizing that many Americans suffer from self-loathing. Such feelings are virtually unheard of among the Tibetans. Their challenges mirror those of oppressed refugees but lack the issue of low self-esteem. Future generations’ encounters with the so-called “developed world” may shape their unknown destinies. Maybe we are overdeveloped outwardly and underdeveloped inwardly. Perhaps it is we who, for all our wealth, are living in poverty.
You can take steps to rectify this poverty through loving kindness meditation. As usual, the place to begin is with yourself. Might you invite a sense of kindness and acceptance and cherishing to arise in your own heart? Repeatedly bringing back your focus is crucial, akin to returning to the breath in meditation. The mind won’t take easily to it, because the wounds we carry run deep. But you might try, just as an experiment, to hold yourself in awareness and acceptance for a time in your practice, as a mother would hold a hurt or frightened child, with a completely available and unconditional love. Can you cultivate forgiveness of yourself, if not of others? Is it even possible to invite yourself to be happy in this moment? Is the basis of happiness present in this moment at all?
Practice loving kindness in the following way, but avoid mistaking the words for the practice. As usual, they are just signposts pointing the way:
Start by centering yourself in your posture and in your breathing. Invite kindness and love to emanate from your heart or belly, suffusing your entire self. Cradle yourself with your own awareness, believing you deserve loving kindness just like any child. Embrace both nurturing motherly and protective fatherly energies, honoring yourself with the kindness deserved. Bathe in the aura of loving kindness, inhaling and exhaling as a long-awaited source of nourishment.
Invite feelings of peacefulness and acceptance to be present in you. For some, reciting phrases like “May I be free from ignorance” holds significant value. May I be free from greed and hatred. May I be happy without suffering. But the words are just meant to evoke feelings of loving kindness. These are intentional wishes for personal well-being, seeking freedom from self-inflicted problems caused by fear or forgetfulness.
As you become a center of love and kindness, envelop yourself in acceptance and nourishment. Stay, rejuvenate, thrive. This can be a profoundly healing practice for body and soul.
You can also take the practice further. Once a radiant center is established within, extend loving kindness outward, guiding it freely. You might first direct it toward the members of your immediate family. Visualize your children, wishing them to avoid needless suffering and find their true paths, experiencing love and acceptance. And then including, as you go along, a partner, spouse, siblings, parents. …
You can direct loving kindness toward your parents whether they are alive or dead, wishing them well, wishing that they may not feel isolated or in pain, honoring them. If you feel capable of it and it feels healthy to you, and liberating, finding a place in your own heart to forgive them for their limitations, for their fears, and for any wrong actions and suffering they may have caused, remembering Yeats’s line, “Why, what could she have done, being what she is?” And there’s no need to stop here. You can direct loving kindness toward anybody, toward people you know and people you don’t. It may benefit them, but it will certainly benefit you by refining and extending your emotional being.
You purposefully send loving kindness to people you struggle with, those you dislike or repel. This action helps mature this extension. You can also actively practice directing loving kindness towards entire groups of people. Understand they share similarities with you—having loved ones, hopes, needs for shelter, food, and peace—whether they are oppressed, suffering, or caught up in war or violence. And you can extend loving kindness to the planet itself, its glories and its silent suffering, to the environment, the streams and rivers, to the air, the oceans, the forests, to plants and animals, collectively or singly.
There is really no natural limit to the practice of loving kindness in meditation or in one’s life. It is an ongoing, ever-expanding realization of interconnectedness. It is also its embodiment. When you can love one tree or one flower or one dog or one place, or one person or yourself for one moment, you can find all people, all places, all suffering, all harmony in that one moment. Practicing in this way is not trying to change anything or get anywhere, although it might look like it on the surface. What it is really doing is uncovering what is always present. Love and kindness are here all the time, somewhere, in fact, everywhere.
Usually our ability to touch them and be touched by them lies buried below our own fears and hurts, below our greed and our hatreds, below our desperate clinging to the illusion that we are truly separate and alone. By invoking such feelings in our practice, we are stretching against the edges of our own ignorance, just as in the yoga we stretch against the resistance of muscle, ligament, and tendon, and as in that and all other forms of meditation, against the boundaries and ignorance of our own minds and hearts. And in the stretching, painful as it sometimes is, we expand, we grow, we change ourselves, we change the world.
My religion is kindness.The Dalai Lama
TRY: Touching base with feelings of loving kindness within yourself at some point in your meditation practice. See if you can get behind any objections you may have to this practice, or behind your reasons for being unlovable or unacceptable. Just look at all that as thinking. Experiment with allowing yourself to bathe in the warmth and acceptance of loving kindness as if you were a child held in a loving mother’s or father’s arms. Then play with directing it toward others and out into the world. There is no limit to this practice, but as with any other practice, it deepens and grows with constant attending, like plants in a lovingly tended garden.
Make sure that you are not trying to help anybody else or the planet. Rather, you are simply holding them in awareness, honoring them, wishing them well, opening to their pain with kindness and compassion and acceptance. If, in the process, you find that this practice calls you to act differently in the world, then let those actions too embody loving kindness and mindfulness.