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.” I gasped loudly in the theater when I heard it.
Lovingkindness is a form of love that truly is an ability, and, as research scientists have shown, it can be learned. It is the ability to take some risks with our awareness—to look at ourselves and others with kindness instead of reflexive criticism; to include in our concern those to whom we normally pay no attention; to care for ourselves unconditionally instead of thinking, “I will love myself as long as I never make a mistake.” It is the ability to gather our attention and really listen to others, even those we’ve written off as not worth our time. It is the ability to see the humanity in people we don’t know and the pain in people we find difficult.
Lovingkindness isn’t the same as passion or romantic love, and it’s not sappy sentimentality. As I’ve said, we don’t necessarily like or 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.”
Here’s one way that works on a small scale. Several performers have told me that they do the following brief lovingkindness meditation if they have stage fright: Standing in front of an audience, before they start acting, playing music, or reciting a poem, they send out wishes for the well-being of everyone in the room. “When I do that,” one singer told me, “I no longer have a sense of the audience as a group of hostile people out there waiting to judge me. I feel, okay, here we all are together.”
Excerpt from Real Happiness.