Week 4 Theme
Lovingkindness is sometimes described as extending friendship to ourselves and others – not in the sense of liking everyone, or dispensing universal approval, but more as an inner knowing that our lives are all inextricably connected. Lovingkindness is a power of the heart that honors this connection. When we practice it, we acknowledge that every one of us shares the same wish to be happy, and the same vulnerability to change and suffering.
In the movie Dan in Real Life, starring Steve Carell as a single dad, there’s a line that seems to sum up the nature of lovingkindness. One of the characters says, straight from the heart, “Love is not a feeling, it’s an ability.” Lovingkindness isn’t the same as passion or romantic love, and it’s not sappy sentimentality. We don’t necessarily have to like or even approve of everyone to whom we offer lovingkindness. Focusing our attention on inclusion and caring creates powerful connections that challenge the idea of an “us/them” world by offering a way to see everyone as “us.”
The key to lovingkindness is recognizing that all human beings want to be part of something fulfilling or meaningful; that we’re all vulnerable to change and loss; that our lives can turn on a dime – in an instant we could lose a loved one, our life savings, a job.
Week 4 Virtual Gathering
The Week Four Virtual Gathering has been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.
Sharon’s Blog Post
Welcome to our final week together!
In contrast to our usual ways of thinking which might regard love or lovingkindness or compassion as gifts we can do nothing to cultivate, or immediate emotional reactions we enjoy but can’t stabilize, these qualities can be seen as skills we can develop through meditation. Not at all in the sense of forcing ourselves to feel, or even worse, pretending to feel something that is not there. Because in many ways these qualities can be seen as emergent properties of how we pay attention, meditation training is based on the idea that if we pay attention differently these qualities will emerge and flourish. How present are we in our attention? How open are we in our attention? How inclusive are we in our attention?
I really believe that lovingkindness is being developed in any skillful practice of meditation. If we go back to the first exercise we practiced, developing concentration by settling our attention on a chosen object, like the feeling of the breath, we see the quiet role of lovingkindness. When we discover that it usually isn’t 800 breaths before our minds wander. More commonly, it is 1 breath, maybe 2 or 3, and then we are gone. Then comes the moment when we realize we’ve been distracted. Our common response would be to feel that we’ve failed, to rail against ourselves.
What we practice though, is letting go gently rather than harshly, and returning to the object of concentration with kindness and compassion for ourselves. Thus those qualities deepen even if we don’t give voice to those words.
Lovingkindness is also present in mindfulness of the body and thoughts and emotions. This is the non-judgmental quality within mindfulness, that sees what our experience is without adding shame, or blame, or comparing, or reifying negativity, as in ”I am such an angry person and always will be.” The more mindful we are, the more kindness and compassion towards ourselves we are cultivating.
And of course there are meditation techniques that are specifically devoted to the strengthening of qualities like lovingkindness and compassion, and that’s what we will dedicate this week of practice to.
Lovingkindness opens our attention and makes it more inclusive, transforming the way we view ourselves and the world. Instead of being so caught up in the construct of “self” and “other” and “us” and “them” that we tend to walk around with, we see things much more in terms of connection to all. This isn’t a weakened or sentimental state – it’s a powerful state. It’s a powerful state because it reflects the truth of how things actually are – we are all connected.
If we learn to stretch, to pay attention in a different, more open way – seeing the good within ourselves instead of just fixating on what we don’t like, noticing those we usually ignore or look right through, letting go of categories and assumptions when we relate to others – we are creating the conditions for lovingkindness and compassion to flow. And the transformation from alienation begins with ourselves.
It is worth undertaking the experiment for this week. At the end of the week, it will be time to reassess your experience throughout, and if you wish to pursue meditation, to think about which technique seem most inviting for now, or challenging in an inspiring way.
- Day 22 • Seeing the Good 8 Minutes
- Day 23 • Walking Lovingkindness 6 Minutes
- Day 24 • Opening the Heart 7 Minutes
- Day 25 • Lovingkindness Toward Others 10 minutes
- Day 26 • Lovingkindness Toward All Beings 7 Minutes
- Day 27 • Meditation on Compassion 6 Minutes
- Day 28 • Interconnectedness Meditation 10 Minutes