Carrying on from the self healing theme of last weeks post, Despair, Overwhelm and Loss, this week I am exploring the Buddhist practice of Loving Kindness, of blessing another with thoughts of goodwill. When unable to process uncomfortable feelings many people find that the practice of Loving Kindness brings relief. This is because as empathic human beings when we focus on the wellbeing of another we cannot help but be uplifted ourself by that outpouring of care and compassion. It’s also because our emotional distress is often on a loop due to the minds attachment to detail and story and as humans the emotional condition is immense due to a reinforcement of that immensity on many levels – which is a subject for another time! We can interrupt this looping mechanism and story by focussing outside of self and using the energy of compassion and love to dissolve much of the uncomfortable feelings. For now it’s enough to know that a large portion of emotional pain and the picking apart of the psychology of that has had it’s day. We are in a period of rapid growth and with that has come the ability for rapid release of issues that the field of psychology still wants to believe will take years of analysis to dispel.
Because of the old new age movement/psychological dynamic of focus on the self sometimes there is fear – often in the guise of resentment – at the thought of focussing on another when overwhelmed by distress, this is usually the ego fearing a loss of some kind. I have noticed this changing in so many ways, especially in the past year; a groundswell of movement towards the concept of we rather than me. Collective care as opposed to local, an intuitive knowing or desire that all good that touches ‘me’ is to benefit all. Giving, being of service, empathy, compassion, these ways of being that are our innate nature, our true self, are making themselves felt more and more now.
In the practice of loving kindness another difficulty that can arise is an inability to accept kindness or receive good ourself, we then project this sense of unworthiness onto others in the form of judgement. One way to test this is to become quiet within and say “May I be peaceful, may I be well, may I be loved” and notice any reactions, especially subtle ones. Reactions could manifest as a blank feeling when saying this to self, a feeling of unhappiness, anxiety or perhaps feeling that you are being fake or silly. What you are aiming for is a contented feeling of “Yes, may I be truly happy, peaceful, loved, well” etc.
So rather than discuss this any further it’s more illustrative to just try it! If during the following exercises, or through listening to the audio which I will upload in a few days you feel upset then simply allow those feelings to just be, revisit last weeks post if you need extra help.
The power of the blessing you send to another can be dependent upon the level of self care you allow within yourself. But if this, at the moment, seems far away we can induce these feelings through memory, thought of someone you feel uncomplicated love for or through visualisation.
This is a very powerful practice, I would encourage you to try this for a few days or weeks and notice how you feel about yourself, the world in general or specific people. When applied to anyone with whom there is conflict you will find the conflict melting more rapidly than with any kind of therapy, I have experienced this time and time again – with small conflict and with large. If goodbyes are needed then practice loving kindness.
If needed, if you are finding difficulty bringing in a positive feeling for self or another then bring to mind someone for whom you have deep affection, picture that person in front of you and send them wishes/blessings of wellness, peace or love. Imagine those thoughts of wellbeing enveloping and flowing through them. Now come back to yourself and notice how you feel.
Begin with self: Breath quietly for a minute of two, relax the body as much as possible and say to yourself one of the following – “May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be safe. May I be well. May I be loved.” (Whatever you wish to experience for yourself bless yourself with this quality or state of being). Say it quietly but firmly, take a full breath in and out and notice how you feel. If any discomfort arises breathe through that then repeat the blessing. If it feels good, repeat and breathe in that good feeling more fully.
To a friend or loved one: This time picture the person you have chosen and bless them with what you wish them to experience. As with above, state this quietly but firmly see it reaching them and being accepted. Take a breath and repeat with the same wish or choose another. A general one would be “May you be happy, may you be well”. Or you can be specific dependant on what you believe that person may need right now. After a couple of minutes return to self and notice how you feel. You can carry on repeating this with the same person or with others.
To people you don’t know; Many people sit with this practice as a form of service or general healing in that they will pick a particular place of conflict or distress in the world, or watch the news with compassion and send out Loving Kindness. If you watch or read the news and get drawn into emotions over what’s happening then you will probably find that this alleviates the anger or sense of hopelessness you feel. Doing this work has been proven over and over again to make a difference. Consciousness is everything.
For personal conflict: This practice is almost like magic when it comes to releasing judgement, condemnation and issues you have with another, big or small. Small contentions will dissolve overnight – often resulting in a wave of affection from the person you noticed had an issue with you the day before – I’ve experienced this a few times! If you find it difficult to shake off the last remnants of discord with someone this will help clear it completely. To practice – again take in a couple of calming breaths, picture the person in front of you and send them a blessing of goodwill. Repeat this until you know the desire to do so is genuine, if it’s small then the first blessing will go smoothly, if bigger then simply work with this until it is easy.
When Loving Kindness is practiced more regularly this will become very easy to do. One way of ramping up the practice with whomever you are sending it too – especially the odd contentious one – is to think about what you would desire for yourself and wish that in the biggest way possible for that person. For instance, if you desire to be more peaceful, wish that the other experiences the deep peace that passes all understanding, that this peace permeates their every cell and radiates out into the world as a shining beacon of light!
This practice, as you can imagine, can be done in two ways; in the moment when you feel it’s needed or as a formal meditation. As a more deliberate or formal practice the key is to repeatedly go from regard towards another and back to the self to monitor how you feel. In time you won’t need to do it this formally as it will simply flow and you are fully aware of what arises as you send another person blessings of goodwill. If short of time you could practice this as you are walking, for pleasure or to get somewhere, I often immerse myself in Loving Kindness when out walking, sometimes sending blessings to nature or people that I pass. Other places to practice are when on public transport, when listening to someone speak and they pause, a minute here and there when at work or a meal with friends or family.
And finally – May you be well. May you be at peace. May you be deeply loved.