Day 25 Meditation
Today we’re going to expand our practice of lovingkindness by including others. We do this using a variety of different relationships to build upon, to expand upon. You don’t have to try to manufacture a certain emotion as you direct the phrases of lovingkindness to each person; you don’t have to pretend you like people you don’t! Instead, this practice is about acknowledging our connection to each recipient.
The key to practicing 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, or a job.
Remember that everyone wants to be happy. Each day we can take the time to hold others in our hearts quietly and wish them well. This meditation might include someone who has been helpful or inspiring to us, someone we know who is feeling alone or afraid, someone who is experiencing triumph and joy, or someone we are about to meet with some trepidation. We might, depending on the circumstances of our lives, particularly include children or animals in our thoughts. Taking just a few minutes a day to reflect in this way is a powerful path to transformation.
Question & Answer
Q: Can doing lovingkindness meditation actually change how we feel about a difficult person?
A: I once received a call from a doctoral student who had interviewed fifteen or sixteen people about their lovingkindness practice. She said every one of them had told her the same thing: In the course of doing the practice, they’d had the insight that whenever someone acts badly, they’re coming from a place of pain. I found this interesting, because the practice isn’t necessarily directed toward having that insight. We’re not asked to reflect on that, or ponder it; it’s not offered as something you have to undertake as a belief. But everybody she’d spoken to for her research experienced the same change in their feelings. When we alter the way we pay attention, we get a very different sense of the intricacies of someone else’s life. We also understand much more clearly that we ourselves are coming from a place of pain when we act recklessly or unskillfully, and we can extend that observation to others.
Welcome back. Today, we’re going to expand our practice of lovingkindness by including others. We can practice offering lovingkindness to others using a variety of different relationships to build upon. To expand upon. We settle on phrases that are meaningful to us. That reflect what we would wish for ourselves. What we would ultimately wish for all of life. Traditional phrases are things like: may you live in safety or may you be safe, may you have mental happiness (which means things like peace and joy in your life), may you have physical happiness (which means things like health and freedom from pain), may you live with ease (which is referring to daily life, daily existence – things like work and family and relationships), may they they go easily, may they not be a struggle, may you be safe, may you have mental happiness, may you have physical happiness, may you live with ease.
With each person or each category of being, see if you can bring an image of them to mind or feel their presence, as if they were sitting right in front of you. Say their name to yourself and offer the phrases of lovingkindness to them. Focusing on just one phrase at a time. Gather all of your energy, all of your attention, to silently say that one phrase. Don’t struggle to fabricate or manufacture a feeling or sentiment. Just relax deep inside. Let the power of intention, which is the practice of lovingkindness lead the way.
Whenever you find that your mind has wandered, your attention has wandered, see if you can let go and simply begin again. Come back to the repetition of the phrases. We start classically with someone who has been of help to us. This person is known as a benefactor. Maybe, it’s someone who has been directly generous to us or kind to us or maybe they have inspired us even though we’ve never met them.
Sit comfortably. Close your eyes or not. However you feel most at ease and call to mind a benefactor. Someone who’s helped you or inspired you. Get an image of them. Say their name to yourself and begin to offer the phrases of lovingkindness to them. May you be safe, may you have mental happiness, may you have physical happiness, may you live with ease.
Then we’ll move on to offering lovingkindness to a friend. You can start with a friend who’s doing well right now. They are enjoying success or good fortune in some aspect of life. You can get an image of them. Say their name to yourself and offer the phrases of lovingkindness to them. May you be safe, may you have mental happiness, may you have physical happiness, may you live with ease.
And then a friend who’s having difficulty right now. They are experiencing some kind of loss or pain or fear. Bring them to mind. Get a feeling for their presence and offer the phrases of lovingkindness to them. And then a neutral person. A neutral person is someone we don’t strongly like or dislike. Maybe it’s somebody we just met. Maybe it’s someone who plays a certain role in our lives. A check-out person in the super market. A bank teller, dry cleaner. The kind of person we tend to look right through without recognizing here too is someone who wants to be happy, just as we do. Who deserves to be happy. If someone like that comes to mind you can visualize them. You may not know their name but you can get a feeling for them and then offer the phrases of lovingkindness to them. May you be safe, may you have mental happiness, may you have physical happiness, may you live with ease.
Now to someone you find difficult. We usually begin with someone who’s only mildly difficult for us. Someone we find somewhat annoying or irritating. We don’t begin right away with the person that’s hurt us the most in this life. It’s common to feel resentment and anger even towards a mildly difficult person. But we undertake this practice in the spirit of adventure. What happens when instead of going over and over our old grievance, we pay attention to this person in a different way. Wishing they could be free. Could be free of some of the suffering that binds them. Wishing they could be filled with the spirit of lovingkindness and compassion. So if there is a difficult person comes to mind you can visualize them. Say their name and see what happens as you offer the phrases of lovingkindness to them. May you be safe, may you have mental happiness, may you have physical happiness, may you live with ease.
Remember you’re not trying to manufacture any kind of emotion or feeling. And if you feel swamped or overwhelmed with resentment then go back to simply offering love and kindness to yourself. Think of yourself as deserving of love and care and generate the phrases for yourself. Remember offering lovingkindness to someone who’s behaved badly doesn’t mean we condone their action or that we’re trying to pretend it doesn’t matter. It may matter very much but we can have the courage and the willingness to open. To remember the possibility of change. To realize that we ourselves are freed by wishing them well.
So as you contemplate someone who is difficult for you again, gather all of your attention around just one phrase and see what happens. And for the last few minutes of this sitting you can be spontaneous. Just see who comes to mind. Someone you care about deeply. Someone you have difficulty with. A relative stranger. Someone you just met. Allow them to arise in your awareness one at a time and make the offering of lovingkindness to them. People, animals, whoever it might be.
And when you feel ready you can open your eyes and pay attention throughout the day to see how this meditation practice may be having an effect.