Day 23 Meditation
For our second day of week four, we return to walking practice, but through the lens of lovingkindness. 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.”
Lovingkindness 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. This isn’t a program for improvement: May you be happy by getting a new personality. It’s a heartfelt wish that is freely given, with no strings attached.
Lovingkindness isn’t the same as passion or romantic love, and it’s not sappy sentimentality. In fact, we don’t necessarily have to 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.”
Question & Answer
Q: Sometimes the pain of others awakens compassion in my heart and other times I think their troubles are their own fault. Am I a terrible person for thinking this?
A: You’re a human being. Recognizing pain doesn’t always lead to compassion. We might be frightened or repulsed by the sight of someone’s pain and decide to look the other way. We might blame them for their troubles, believing that they need to make more effort and just get it together already. Our compassion may be blocked because we blame ourselves for being ineffectual in a world that needs so much help, or because we feel guilty about something we did or said (or didn’t, but feel we should have). Maybe we ourselves are in pain and feel we don’t have enough energy to be compassionate toward someone else. Any of these things might block compassion.
Compassion is truthful: It’s acknowledging with equanimity that this is what’s going on. In the cases you’re talking about, it might mean acknowledging that yes, this person is getting in his own way; he’s not handling his troubles very skillfully. But compassion ultimately involves seeing difficult states like fear, greed, and jealousy not as bad and wrong and terrible but as states of suffering. The more we do that, the more compassion will spontaneously arise within us.
Welcome back. See if you can walk outside in a public place as you listen to this. In this meditation exercise we move at a normal pace, eyes open. Yet we have a center point on a silent repetition of certain phrases. There are many forms and methods for doing this. The one I like the best is to center my attention on phrases for myself as I walk along. Like, may I be well, may I be peaceful. If you have other phrases that you prefer, you can use those. Sometimes in walking we use simpler phrases than when sitting with lovingkindness. Even as I’m aware of everything going on around me, the repetition of the phrases forms a basis for connection, for being in the moment.
May I be well. May I be peaceful. And then as someone or something comes strongly into my awareness, as I hear a bird, I hear a dog, I see a person, I have a strong memory of somebody, I take a moment to include them. May you be well. May you be peaceful. And then return to the repetition of phrases for myself. It’s a very interesting and creative exercise because we don’t know who’s going to come by. Maybe we’re afraid of dogs, but there’s the sound of a dog. May you be well. May you be peaceful.
The return to the phrases for one’s self gives us a meaning to not get scattered, jumping from being, to being, to being. So we can have a steady object of concentration and also include, open to, recognize those that come strongly into our awareness. May I be well. May I be peaceful. May you be well, be peaceful.
You may judge someone. We like this about them, we don’t like that about them, whatever it might be. But underneath that we can include them in our field of friendliness. May you be well, be peaceful. Maybe we feel envious of somebody. Maybe we feel a little afraid of them. Underneath that as we’re walking. May you be well. May you be peaceful. You’ll suddenly see the world explode with life. Little creatures, insects, animals, people, one’s self.
And when you feel ready you can bring the exercise to a close. But see if you bring this sensibility into one conversation you have today. And notice that even underneath listening, planning, thinking, speaking, you can return to the silent repetition of these phrases for yourself for those you’re engaged with.