In my first post on this practice, I reflected on the need to practicing loving kindness with ourselves as a foundation for using it with others. By developing an accepting awareness towards our own minds, including our selfish thoughts and hurtful actions, we can more skillfully encounter those things in others.
There are endless ways to practice loving-kindness with others in our daily lives. Here are a few:
–when in conversation, we can listen with our full attention, instead of planning our response or jumping in with our comments
–when we encounter a store clerk, bus driver, or neighbor, we can be present to them with respect and care
–when we disagree with someone, we can practice opening our minds to another point of view that may have equal merit to ours
–when we observe the tendency to be critical or unforgiving, we can remember the ways we may have offended someone else during our own struggles, and can practice releasing ill-will that only harms our own hearts.
Pema Chodron beautifully encapsulates this last practice when she writes in Start Where You Are, “The basic ground of compassionate action is the importance of working with…..your own unwanted, unacceptable stuff, so that when the unacceptable and unwanted appears out there, you relate to it based on having worked with loving-kindness for yourself.”
This practice can ultimately be applied to almost anything we do by simply having a genuine concern for someone’s well-being in our hearts. Another Buddhist teacher I enjoy reading, Cheri Huber, expresses it this way.
“First, we can be kind to ourselves. One person can be kind to another. At every opportunity, one person can make a decision toward loving-kindness and compassion and away from violence. There are hundreds of opportunities every day. Could you let yourself open your heart to a few? Not all, just a few. And could you let yourself feel good about that effort? If so, you’ve already improved the entire universe. All that’s necessary is one small step at a time.”
It is so inspiring for me to remember that I can make a difference in our world, one small interaction at a time. Each person’s efforts influence those around her/him and ultimately, the collective consciousness of our planet. If many of us are willing to practice loving kindness, these small steps can go a long way towards positive change. The first benefit happens in our own hearts that open to the natural movement of love that is meant to flow and connect us to all of life.
Nothing to Get Tense About
I imagine the surgeon’s knife
removes the part of my brain
that discriminates present
from past and what will be.
I wake up to everything.
The apple is all at once
sapling and blossom and
sweet red weight and bruise
and white flesh and stump of tree.
The forest is all at once
ash and shade and spruce
and aspen, chopped and
old growth and song-rung
and hushed. And you and I
are innocent, red handed,
coming and lost, all alone
and interlocked, weeping
and giddy, walled in and
bare, really no different
from now, my dear.
How to Practice Loving Kindness
The residents of the Institute chose to practice loving-kindness in our relationships for the month of October. Loving-kindness is probably known to many as the Buddhist practice of maître or metta, wishing for ourselves and others to be truly happy. It is such a general term that it could mean many things, but the core of this practice is to think and act with someone’s well-being in mind.
We are often so preoccupied with our own ideas and plans that we fail to consider the needs of others. Though the underlying motive for our efforts may be our own happiness, this pursuit can be lonely and fruitless if it obstructs the natural flow of love in our hearts. Who can really find happiness by ignoring or even harming someone else? We unknowingly rob ourselves of the very happiness we seek.
Sri Swami Satchidananda’s words remind us that our natural joy is experienced when we think of others. “Don’t ever think that you get joy by doing. When you do everything as a dedicated act for the benefit of humanity, not just for your benefit, you retain your joy.”
The Buddhist practice of maitri or metta begins beautifully by directing loving kindness to ourselves, or to someone to whom we easily feel goodwill. When we take a moment to actually feel that energy of genuine care in the heart, we can practice dwelling on it and gradually learn to expand it.
A simple way to direct this intention to ourselves is with the body. For example, when we practice asanas, we can respond to the messages of the body as it is, instead of imposing on it how we would like it to be. We can practice nourishing the body with proper rest and healthy food.
Then we can develop that same accepting awareness towards our minds, witnessing its moods and desires without judgment, and without getting swept away by them. When I see, for example, how attached I am to my own plan that conflicts with someone else’s, I can observe how that struggle to control things creates tension.
Whenever we see clearly the cause of our suffering, or how our attachment closes our hearts to others, we can choose to let go. We can value the benefit of an open, loving heart, instead of getting our way.
In my next post, I will focus more on practicing loving kindness with others.