900th Week: Wishing People Well (and Yourself, too!)
As our human world continues to experience polarization and suffering and, in the United States at least, a lessening of civility and empathy, I’ve been thinking about the importance of cultivating a practice of wishing people well. I find that when I move through the day wishing people well, I automatically tap into an attitude of heart-oriented awareness. When I pay attention to my heart brain and take time to listen and feel into how my heart interprets the world, I automatically feel more generous toward my fellow humans.
Media and entertainment programs so often focus on competition, problems, aggressive behaviors—on what is dramatic, and much of the time negative. Because of this, we risk developing a habit of orienting to what’s not working, what’s traumatic and upsetting, what’s nasty and contentious and we may not be aware that we are becoming accustomed to seeing life through a lens colored by these qualities.
It’s helpful to remember that we perceive what we believe, that we interpret our world based on the filter through which we experience it. When we move through the world wishing people well, we generate a filter that is more likely to orient to noticing what’s going right, noticing where we see people cooperating, helping each other, interacting in positive ways. I’ve written many times about what’s called solution-focused therapy, where people are invited to notice only what’s going right, to actively seek out what’s going right in their environment and in their lives. This generates a filter that sees even more of what’s going right, just as the more negative filter easily focuses on what’s going wrong.
This doesn’t mean to ignore things that need to be changed or fixed. It doesn’t mean that everything is fine so there’s nothing to worry about. But it does mean not to live there full-time or permanently. Taking action is an important option when we see things that we feel are unjust or just plain wrong. But to live with a perceptual filter that orients to what’s out of place, what’s dangerous, or what’s wrong tends to prevent us from noticing interactions and circumstances that are more positive in nature.
And so, for this week’s practice in conscious living, I invite you to explore what you experience when you move through your daily activities wishing people well—people you may pass in the street, people with whom you work, people you may encounter in the course of your daily errands or chores. Track the quality of your internal experience as you do this and notice what you feel in your body. Also notice your emotional experience and the tone and quality of your thoughts, including your self-talk.
And, be sure to include yourself in your well-wishes. This could be a whole practice by itself—orienting ourselves to self-acceptance and embracing our wholeness. Notice how you feel when you include yourself in your well-wishes. Notice what you experience when you offer yourself the quality of support that well-wishes naturally convey. Pay attention to what you experience in your body, in the tone of your self-talk, in the quality of your emotional experience when you remember to wish yourself well each day.
A more formalized way of doing this kind of practice is found in the Buddhist practice of lovingkindness, or metta. If you feel moved to do so, here are three links to a lovingkindness practice:
(I ran into a glitch here, so please google “lovingkindness practice” and you’ll find a number of lovely scripts and practices. So sorry that I can’t figure out how to offer just the links, but I can’t seem to include other URLs as part of flow of the written practice here.)
As with all these practices, be sure to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and to pat gently on the head any judgments that may arise, allowing them to move on through without your having to do anything about them. And, as always, be sure to make room for mixed feelings, as they are a natural aspect of our wholeness. As you do with judgments, there’s nothing you have to do about these. The gift is to notice them gently as you continue to wish yourself well.
Here’s a recorded version of this week’s practice, if you would prefer to listen…