Here is Part II of Loving Kindness. Scroll back to where I first address it.
Loving kindness meditation – a Buddhist practice, helps soften the critical voices that can arise in us, and can deplete our energy further. It helps meet our inner and outer wounds with gentleness instead of self-hate. Loving kindness accepts us for who we are right now, with all our real or perceived imperfections. Right now, right here, whoever we are, whatever we have done, we deserve love.
Loving Kindness Meditation
Get in a comfortable, but alert position. Become aware of your breath moving in and out of your body. Now, become aware of sensations in your body: the tickle in your throat or the pressure of the chair on your buttocks, etc. Notice how this moment-to-moment awareness brings you fully to the present.
When you feel ready, begin.
On the in-breath, say out loud or silently:
“May I be free of suffering”.
On the out-breath:
“May I be well”.
On the next inhale:
“May I be peaceful and at ease”.
On the next exhale:
“May I be happy”.
Keep this up for as long as feels comfortable. When your mind strays, gently, with loving kindness, bring it back to these simple and caring words. If the phrases don’t resonate with you, feel free to make up your own.
Here are the phrases I’ve been using lately:
May I treat myself kindly.
May I love myself just the way I am.
Sometimes coordinating the breath with the phrases is difficult, so just drop that part of the practice if that is the case, coming back to it another time, if you want. The purpose of the breath here, is that it can help ground the practice in your body, but if it proves too much, don’t do it. Sometimes, when I am very tired and depleted, following through the phrases is too much for me. You may find this is true for you too. What I do instead, is to conjure up the feeling of loving kindness and shower myself with that feeling, resting one hand on my belly and one on my heart. Sending loving kindness to certain areas of the body that need attention can be powerful as well.
Traditionally, we begin these phrases with ourselves, then move on to others, building up loving kindness in our hearts. But, although the idea of showering ourselves with loving kindness may seem simple enough at first glance, we may have difficulty with it. We may not be used to such gentleness with ourselves. If this is true for you, or if the words become mechanical, take time to recall an incident where someone was kind to you. It can be as simple as someone letting you into the flow of traffic, or a gentle tone someone used with you when you felt out of sorts. Connect with that feeling and then begin the phrases that work for you.
After practicing for yourself, you may want to stop right there. But, if you want, the next step is to practice the phrases for someone else, someone you care about. This may prove easier to do and, if true, you may want to begin your practice here instead of with yourself. You want to visualize this person as best as you can and then say the same phrases, replacing “may I” with “may you” or “may s/he”. I find that saying “you” brings the person that much closer to my heart, so that is what I use, but try both ways and see what’s right for you. You may try this practice for several people you are close with (one at a time). If you have trouble visualizing, don’t be too concerned. What’s most important is that you connect on a feeling level with whomever you are doing the meditation for.
Then, to expand our capacity for loving kindness, we move on to a neutral person in our life – a bank teller or the receptionist at our doctor’s office, for example. Can we let these people into our heart as well? Doing this part of the practice awakens an inclusion of others in my heart that I never used to consider very much. We have a tendency to just be affected by those we have strong feelings for; whether those feelings are of anger or love. But, this part of the practice allows us to develop loving kindness towards people we can usually dismiss altogether. Now, after years of practice, I find myself wondering about these people in my life – the clerk at the pharmacy, the cashier at Safeway. When I interact with them, it’s subtle, but I feel a veil has been lifted from my heart. When I say “thank you” as they bag my groceries, or hand me my prescriptions, it is more often not out of automatic politeness, but with sincerity.
The next step, if you want to continue, is to consider someone, or several others, that you have difficulty with. Obvious people may leap into mind – you may be struggling with someone you work with, or be in conflict with a relative, or someone in your community. But, if this is not true for you, perhaps there is someone who rubs you the wrong way. You can’t figure out why, and maybe feel ashamed of this reaction, but the truth is, when you see them, or think of them, you become annoyed, frustrated, or just plain angry. I admit that there is a handful of people in my community that can get on my nerves. I come in contact with them on rare occasions at gatherings and events, and therefore, rub shoulders with them to some degree. They represent the kind of person I’m talking about and would include in this particular practice.
Once you have someone or a group in mind, visualize them as clearly as you can, and, to the best of your ability, go through the phrases again, using “may you” or “may they”.
It’s easy to see that we may have difficulty with this. What has arisen for me, in this part of the practice, is noticing my own judgements, not the people themselves. I see my anger, my frustration, my impatience, and I see how these emotions block my heart from free-flowing love. Therefore, it could be said that sending loving kindness to those we are at odds with in some way, has the added effect of awakening our heart to what we push aside within ourselves, including perhaps, our illness.
This brings up a good question: when we practice loving kindness for others, are we doing it for us or them? I believe the answer is both. In meditation, we see how our thoughts and emotions affect us and when we meditate on the phrases of loving kindness, they too have an effect. We can only know, really, how they affect us, not others. Yet, I’m sure we all have had the experience of walking into a room where people have been fighting, but now are silent. We may not know what they’ve been fighting about, but we can feel the charged energy immediately. The same holds true if we walk into a room where people have been meditating. We can feel a pervasive quiet that can have a profound effect on us. So, I believe that the phrases we use in loving kindness meditation can have a positive effect on those we practice for, as well as ourselves, and acting as a kind of prayer or blessing.
When you are finished with the phrases with those who are difficult in your life, imagine all those people that you’ve just practiced for: yourself, loved one(s), neutral people and difficult people, and then say the phrases again. Start with “may we…”. It’s always an interesting group that shows up – people that probably would never congregate in real life! I visualize them in a circle but do whatever works for you.
The next step, if you have energy, is to proceed with the phrases for your home town as a whole, then your state, your country, and then the whole world! When we have finished with the entire practice, our hearts are now as big as the entire universe. By being all-inclusive, we not only have broken down our armoring, but have touched upon our true nature by uncovering our deepest heart’s desire: to love unconditionally. This practice too, has the ability to increase our self-esteem, because as people with chronic illness, we can sometimes struggle with our sense of purpose in life. What greater purpose can we have than offering our blessings of well-being to others? Practicing for others can have the added benefit of taking the focus off of ourselves, which can feel like a relief and allow us to feel less isolated. We become a part of a greater whole, experiencing more connection with others.