Day 24 Meditation
Lovingkindness meditation has the power to change our story. If our most immediate story is one of isolation, alienation, or fear, it can become one of connection, caring, and kindness. For today’s practice, we open to this possibility by opening to the care and regard of those that love us. From this place, we begin the practice of offering the phrases of lovingkindness to ourselves.
Lovingkindness (also known as Metta in Pali, the language of the original Buddhist texts) is the ability to embrace all parts of ourselves – as well as all parts of the world.
Lovingkindness meditation practice doesn’t require pretending to feel things you don’t; it’s not about forcing yourself to like everyone or fabricating a certain emotional state. It’s really an experiment in attention, in being more fully present with ourselves and others, in being willing to step out of the rut of habit and look at ourselves and others in a different way. If we’re in the habit of seeing only the negative in ourselves and missing the positive, we can experiment with turning our attention to the goodness within us.
If we’re in the habit of ignoring the humanity of strangers or people we don’t know well, we can experiment with being open and aware, taking an interest, connecting. If we’re in the habit of not really listening while conversing, we can experiment with being more fully present with the next person we speak to. If we’re in the habit of classifying and dismissing people based on what we think we know about them, we can experiment with listening with fresh ears, giving our full attention. If we’re wholehearted, open, interested, we may find that people surprise us.
Question & Answer
Q: Sometimes I can include the whole world in my lovingkindness meditation— except a couple of people I’m really upset with. What should I do when I come up against that feeling?
A: The Dalai Lama said, “If you have an enemy and you think about them all the time—their faults and what they’ve done, and your grievances—then you can’t really enjoy anything. You can’t eat; you can’t get a good night’s sleep. Why give them that satisfaction?” It’s common sense: The more absorbed we are in another person’s state of mind, the more obsessed by them, the less free we are. So it’s often out of compassion for ourselves that we practice lovingkindness—which may not necessarily mean liking these people but can mean developing a different perspective about them. You can start with remembering that all of us want to be happy— including people who aren’t doing a very skillful job of it.
Welcome back as we continue our exploration of lovingkindness. The quality of lovingkindness is woven throughout our meditation practice, implicitly and explicitly. As an example of a way it’s implicit in our practice, as you sit if you settle your attention on the feeling of the breath it’s usually not very long before you realize you’ve become distracted. Your mind has gone into the past, into the future somewhere.
The moment that we recognize we’ve been distracted is like the magic moment in the practice. Because this is the time we have the chance to be really different. Instead of judging ourselves and being harsh, seeking to punish ourselves, we can practice forgiving ourselves, having some compassion for ourselves. Gently let go and begin again. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you last consciously felt a breath. It doesn’t matter where your mind went. You can always, always let go and begin again. This is a very important moment when we realize we’ve been distracted. Each time that happens you have the opportunity to cultivate and deepen lovingkindness for yourself.
In an explicit way, we can connect to the love and compassion that do exist in the world. Sit comfortably. You can close your eyes or not. You can imagine yourself sitting in the center of a circle, the circle being made up of the most loving beings you’ve met. Or perhaps you’ve never met them, but you’ve been inspired by them. Maybe they exist now, or they’ve existed historically or even mythically. That’s the circle. And there you are in the center of it. It’s like a circle of love. You can experience yourself as the recipient of the energy of the attention, of the care, of the regard of all of these beings.
Silently repeat whatever phrases are expressive of that which you would wish the most for yourself. Not just for today, but in an enduring way. Phrases that are big, that are open.Traditionally phrases are things like, may I be safe, be happy, be healthy, live with ease of heart. You can use these or any phrases that are meaningful to you. May I be peaceful. May I be free of suffering. May I be filled with lovingkindness. You can choose three or four phrases.
Center your attention on repeating them as you experience yourself in the center of that circle. All kind of different emotions may arise. You may feel gratitude and awe. You might feel kind of shy, like you’d just as soon duck down and have them all send lovingkindness to one another and forget about you. Whatever emotion may arise, you can just let it pass through you. Your touchstone is those phrases. May I be happy. May I be peaceful. Or whatever phrases you’ve chosen.
Imagine your skin is porous and with this energy coming in. Imagine yourself receiving. There’s nothing special you need to do to deserve this kind of acknowledgement or care. It’s simply because you exist. May I be happy. May I be peaceful. And you can allow that quality of lovingkindness and compassion and care to flow right back out toward that circle, and then toward all beings everywhere. So that which you receive you transform into giving. The quality of care and kindness that does exist in this world can become a part of you and part of what you express in return. And when you feel ready, you can open your eyes.