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.