(image from Pixabay)
" Whether one believes in a religion or not,
and whether one believes in rebirth or not,
there isn't anyone who doesn't appreciate
kindness and compassion."
- Dalai Lama
All my life I have felt like I have been searching for a spiritual path that would sit well with my heart and mind .... it's been a long, long journey (and it continues to be a long journey). When I was a child and attended scripture at school (I was christened Presbyterian), my spiritual understanding revolved around Christianity, I was intrigued with Jesus, and in awe of God. In fact, I used to tell people that to make up for my disability, God had given me gifts and talents to embody, such as the ability to "play the piano by ear" (not literally by ear, but I had the ability to pick out tunes and songs on the piano, I also found it easy to read sheet music), drawing, and swimming. As I grew up my spirituality became a little more adventurous, and in my teens I started to explore Wicca, the magic of candles, rituals, and mantra's captivated me, and yet it seemed a little hollow to me, I was working through the practice alone, and it didn't feel very comforting. Then, in my early twenties I started to explore Buddhism. It has been an on and off journey through Buddhism, but it is the spiritual path that has stuck - in my heart and head. And so I want to talk a little about loving-kindness, in relation to my 2017 Character Challenge, and my first character challenge - kindness.
Loving-Kindness is the Buddhist approach to kindness. It is expressed through the meditation practice of Loving-kindness. The aim is to "sweeten" the mind and develop an altruistic attitude, to others and yourself. It erodes a negative attitude to the problems you face in life, and creates a positive one, an open courage in facing life head one, with compassion and love. (This alchemy of changing negative attitude to positive attitude results in a change of patterns/habits ... this is called "loving-acceptance."
Loving-kindness meditation is the first meditation in a series that explore the 4 qualities of love:
3. Appreciative Joy
The ultimate aim of these meditations is to help us develop compassion and empathy.
When you first start loving-kindness meditation you begin by developing self-acceptance (if you cannot accept your own flaws and failings, how can you accept others).
Once you reach a level of self-acceptance you must then develop loving-kindness towards:
1. a respected person, e.g. a spiritual teacher.
2. a beloved person, e.g. a family member.
3. a neutral person, e.g. the waiter at the cafe.
4. a hostile person, e.g. someone you have difficulty with.
Here is how you can do a loving-kindness meditation:
(This is a meditation as set out by the Dalai Lama)
1. Spend 5 minutes at the beginning of each day remembering
we all want the same things (to be happy and be loved)
and we are all connected to one another.
2. Spend 5 minutes breathing in, cherishing yourself; and, breathing out
cherishing others. If you think about people you have difficulty cherishing,
extend your cherishing to them anyway.
3. During the day extend that attitude to everyone you meet.
Practice cherishing the "simplest" person (clerks, attendants, etc)
or people you dislike.
4. Continue this practice no matter what happens or what anyone does to you.
These thoughts are very simple, inspiring and helpful.
The practice of cherishing can be taken very deeply if done wordlessly,
allowing yourself to feel the love and appreciation that
already exists in your heart.
To practice raising feelings of loving-kindness you can also practice visualisation, reflection, and listening.
Visualise - imagine the person you want to extend loving-kindness too and smile at them.
Reflection - contemplate their good qualities and how they have been kind to you.
Listening - repeat a mantra of loving-kindness (such as "May you be happy, May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.")
Try the loving-kindness meditation above for a week, practice the visualisation, reflection, and listening, and see what happens.