It is February, the month that many associate with hearts, chocolates, sappy cards, bouquets, and other symbols of “love.” When I was a child, February was the month that my dear ol’ dad used to buy my sister and I Whitman’s Samplers for St. Valentine’s Day which we savored. As I got older, February was alternately a giddy or depressing month based on my current romantic status (During my teens, this was usually bleak!). Through latter years, with the hustle and bustle of career and family life, I gradually lost all interest in February, save for the beloved “mid-winter recess” from school that New York teachers and students enjoy!
This year, however, the month of February, with Valentine’s Day smack in the middle, I will be thinking about loving-kindness. Loving-kindness, or Meta Prayer, as it is known in Buddhism, is a mindfulness practice that has benefits extending far beyond stress reduction or relaxation. “Extending far beyond” is in fact a key component of this type of meditative practice and the attention focuses first on self, and then farther and farther outward to all of mankind.
It Begins With Self
Mindfulness expert, Shauna Shapiro, delivered an excellent TEDx Talk (The Power of Mindfulness: What You Practice Grows Stronger) during which she illustrates that mindfulness is not just paying attention, but paying attention with kind curiosity. To love yourself, you can’t be judgmental. This is the part of the loving-kindness meditation that develops our sense of SELF-COMPASSION. When I dug a bit deeper into the meaning of self compassion, I learned that it differs from self-absorption, and selfishness. Self-compassion isn’t about putting myself first, or placing myself on a pedestal looking down at others. Instead, it is about fully accepting myself as I am and recognizing that I am worthy of all the wonderful things this life has to offer.
It Moves Out Toward Loved Ones
This, for me, is the easiest part of practicing loving-kindness. Most all of us, at least those with the capacity for compassion, inherently wish the best for the people we genuinely love and care about, and consequently, suffer when they do. What makes this part of the practice special is that we are consciously sending well wishes out to the universe in their favor. In other faiths, including the Christianity in which I was loosely raised, we are encouraged to pray for loved ones and come to believe that God can grant our wishes. As a Reiki practitioner, I definitely feel that channeling energy and sending forth a healing intention toward another can yield real healing during a planned session. When I send favorable thoughts to loved ones during regular loving-kindness meditations, for me, the greatest benefit is GRATITUDE. I remember to be thankful for these people in my life.
Toward Those Who Inhabit Our Daily Landscape
The Starbucks barista who prepares my morning coffee. The main office secretary who manages the sign in sheets at work. The lady who mans the security gate of my development. The neighbor who sings out loud while she jogs each morning. These are the people in my life to whom I feel relatively neutral. And they are precisely the people I tend to take for granted. Since our contact is limited, I tend to discredit the impact a kind word from any one of them could impact the course of my day. Conversely, a warm smile or a simple compliment from me can start a chain reaction of good in their world. Remembering to send energy to these individuals in my loving-kindness practice heightens my AWARENESS of the far-reaching effects of every single person we encounter every day.
Toward Those Who Raise Conflict
Here comes the challenge, and honestly, the reason the loving-kindness meditation is important for all people to practice. When we think about those who raise conflict in our lives we need to remember that there are two types of conflict; internal and external. The latter has never been a tremendous issue for me. For the most part, I tend to play nice with others. Internal conflict, however is something I grapple with on a daily basis. They are people who make me jealous, impatient, intolerant, sad, and angry, and even though these emotions may not lead to an altercation, they cause suffering in my soul. I love the quote about hate being like holding on to a hot coal with the intention of throwing it. I am the only one who gets burned. By consciously projecting love and light toward those who cause conflict in my life, I cultivate FORGIVENESS, and more importantly, TOLERANCE.
Finally, Toward All
This, final part of my loving-kindness meditation feels me with a profound sense of CONNECTEDNESS. I extend well wishes to all of the people in all of the world: people who live different lives but share the basic characteristics that make me human. No matter how alone or isolated I feel, I am reminded that I am in fact part of something much larger and more powerful than Jen.
The loving-kindness meditation, as I have come to practice it, enables me to acknowledge my own feelings with kindness and to cultivate more of the good stuff… forgiveness, identification/empathy, connection, self-compassion, selflessness, gratitude, and love.
Happy Valentine’s Day!!!