blog-pic-loving kindness

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.