887th Week: Orienting to Lovingkindness

Note: At the end of this written practice is a recording of the Lovingkindness meditation. Please remember never to listen to recorded meditations while driving or using dangerous machinery.

The practice at the center of this week’s offering is heart-oriented. I’ve written many times about the importance of accessing and listening to the “heart-brain”, as it has a different take on many things compared to what the “head-brain” perceives and understands.

In our current political climate, characterized by a style of interaction that began 30 to 40 years ago, there is a new habit of thinking about the “other” in deeply negative terms with labels such as “devils”, “traitors”, “enemies”. This style of interaction has moved about as far from heart-centered styles of perception and interaction as possible. In the years before the current style of political conversation started, people understood that there are disagreements about policies, but this didn’t lead to a direct attack on the characteristics and attributes of colleagues. 

All this got me to thinking about the importance of remembering that we are one human family and that we need each other in order to survive. It also orients me to the practice of lovingkindness, where I can remember and affirm that all living beings want the same thing—to be free from suffering and to be happy. It’s sometimes hard to access this awareness when it feels like we have lost the ability to disagree with one another without an attack and alienation as part of that disagreement.

For this week’s practice in conscious living, I invite you to orient to lovingkindness, if you aren’t doing this kind of practice already. This means to remember that anyone and everyone you encounter along the way wants the same thing. It can be helpful to remember that people who tend go attack are often being driven by fear. 

Here’s one version of Lovingkindness practice that I have on my website:

How to use this Meditation Exercise:

It’s been my experience that doing this meditation once or twice a week, when you have time to really sit with it and enter into the spirit of what it touches, can have a powerful healing effect over time. Doing it regularly in this way creates a state of mind that promotes greater self-acceptance, compassion, tolerance, and ease with ourselves and also with others. It also offers a way to experience and honor mixed feelings while continuing to open your heart. (Note: Doing this practice doesn’t preclude feeling outrage or the need to take action on behalf of social and environmental justice…) If you choose to experiment with this meditation, give it several months to have an effect and notice how you feel as you use it over time.

*****

Lovingkindness Meditation

Begin with stillness—you’ll find it in the still point, the gap between your out-breath and the next in-breath.

Focus on your heartspace and find the sacred space within the heart—a cave, chamber, whatever comes into your awareness. Settle in there.

Think about yourself for a moment, and explore your experience as you offer yourself lovingkindness with the following words, which you can repeat to yourself mentally or out loud:

            May I be free from the causes of suffering.
May I live with compassion for myself.
May I experience happiness and well-being.

Now, think of all the people you love, everyone who is close to you. Repeat the following words mentally or out loud:

            May all those I love be free from the causes of suffering.
May I live with compassion for all those I love and may they live with compassion for themselves.
May all those I love experience happiness and well-being.

Now, think of all the people you know—acquaintances, colleagues, store clerks—and all the people you have ever seen, anywhere and everywhere in the world. Repeat the following words, mentally or out loud, noticing what it’s like to make the conscious choice to open your heart to the fact that everyone you know wishes to be free from suffering and to be happy:

            May everyone I know or I have ever seen be free from the causes of suffering.
May I live with compassion for everyone I know or have ever seen and may they live with compassion for themselves.
May everyone I know or have ever seen experience happiness and well-being.

Now imagine everyone in the world you do not know and have never seen, and repeat the following statements mentally or out loud. Notice how your heartspace must expand to include the billions of people you have never seen or met:

May everyone I do not know or have never seen be free from the causes of suffering.
May I live with compassion for everyone I do not know or have never seen, and may they live with compassion for themselves.
May everyone I do not know or have never seen experience happiness and well-being.

Bring to mind now anyone who has ever hurt you in any way, remembering, as well, all those people you may have hurt. Then, continuing to expand your heartspace and allowing any mixed feelings that may arise, say the following, mentally or out loud:

            May anyone who has ever hurt me be free from the causes of suffering.
May I live with compassion for anyone who has ever hurt me, and may they live with compassion for themselves.
May anyone who has ever hurt me experience happiness and well-being.

Next, imagine all the living beings of the earth—animals, insects, birds, fish, plants, rocks, viruses, bacteria, fungi—every single form of earth-kin on this planet, visible and invisible, and say the following mentally or out loud:

            May all beings everywhere be free from the causes of suffering.
May I live with compassion for all beings everywhere. 
May all beings everywhere experience happiness and well-being.

Now, take a moment to imagine that not only do you send lovingkindness to all beings, but that you also are the recipient of lovingkindness being sent to you by the many people who engage in lovingkindness meditation around the world.

            May I receive lovingkindness from others.
  May I be free from the causes of suffering.
May I live with compassion for myself.
May I experience happiness and well-being.
May I receive lovingkindness from others.

Notice what it feels like to spend some time in your open heart experiencing the effects of both sending and receiving lovingkindness.

Return now to the stillness, the ever-present stillness, and review your experience. Imagine how practicing lovingkindness, if you don’t already, might affect the quality of your daily life and your relationship with yourself and others.

*****

There are other versions of Lovingkindness meditation on YouTube, so I encourage you to find the one that works best for you. The important thing is to do practices that help shift away from habits of demonizing “the other” and to remember that we are one human family that needs to learn, on a global scale, how to get along together. From a perspective of subtle activism, doing this kind of practice nurtures and strengthens this kind of awareness in our human collective consciousness.

As with all these practices, please remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion, as curiosity automatically moves toward rather than pulling away from. Also, please remember to pat gently on the head any and all judgments that may arise—whether about you or someone else—and allow these judgments to simply move on through without your having to do anything with or about them.

We all have blind spots and biases and being gentle with ourselves as we work with changing them can be a great gift to ourselves. This gentleness can help us offer ourselves lovingkindness more and more easily and that will generalize to soften our judgments about others. This doesn’t mean not to act when things are happening that we don’t agree with. It does mean to move through the world with a more heart-oriented stance, toward ourselves and toward others.

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