Monday, September 5, 2011
Developing a Loving Kindness Practice
A few months ago I finished a book I had been reading by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: How to Expand Love. Since reading the book a year ago, I have been working on developing a personal or loving-kindness practice. My goal is to being to feel loving-kindness towards all living beings. A lofty goal to achieve, I have taken the first step at the beginning.
A loving-kindness meditation I was recently taught begins with thinking of a loved one and feeling the loving-kindness one feels towards that being: wishing this being love, peace, happiness, security and freedom from suffering, pain, and harm. The idea is to experience the depth and feeling of loving-kindness. Next one moves to a teacher or master, someone one respects, and again feeling the loving-kindness one feels for this person, wishing this person love, peace, happiness, security and that s/he will be free from suffering, pain, and harm. Again experiencing the depth and feeling of loving-kindness one feels for this respected person.
Next one moves to oneself, wishing this feeling of loving-kindness for oneself. That I will enjoy love, peace, happiness, security and be free from suffering, pain, and harm. Experience the feelings of loving-kindness, the wish of peace, happiness and security and desire to be free of pain, suffering and harm.
Lastly, one expands these feelings outward. If one is meditating in a group, wishing that everyone in the room will enjoy happiness and and the causes of happiness, be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. Alternatively one can work outward in the four directions, wishing peace and happiness for everyone in front of oneself, then in back, then to the sides: to the right, to the left.
Then one continues to cycle through the four phases, noticing what comes up during the practice. Initially I noticed a deep desire for peace and happiness, and freedom from pain and suffering. I saw that all living beings share this same longing, and that I wish all other beings freedom from pain and suffering, out of the same desire that I wished it for myself.
After one practices the meditation for some time, one will be ready to begin expanding it ever outward, first to neutrals: the supermarket cashier, the call center person, the bank teller and so on. People you interact with but don't have feelings for: either of love or anger.
Then one begins the harder work: wishing those towards whom one harbors feelings of anger or resentment peace, happiness and freedom of pain and suffering. Next one works with those one has deeper feelings of anger and mistrust, those one might consider enemies. This group is difficult, but worthwhile to master.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains the steps of this practice in his book, How to Expand Love. It is an interesting practice of self-exploration, to be sure. Of course the ultimate goal is to take the practice off the cushion and into one's daily life. One could practice emanating feelings of loving-kindness outward in the four directions while sitting in traffic or at the grocery store line.
Recently while practicing I realized that all beings suffer, just like I, many suffer 1,000 times more. I try to remember this especially when interacting with those with whom there is a history of anger, resentment and mistrust. Just like me these people suffer. Remembering that those who have been a source of hurt or harm are also suffering helps one develop compassion towards those with whom relationships are difficult. I believe this is one of the steps towards forgiveness. I have found remembering this takes some of the edge off the sharpness of the negative emotions one feels.
I recently noticed myself harboring and fueling negative thoughts towards a party who has hurt me deeply. I saw that this destructive path was only causing further suffering for myself. The solution I found is to not allow the mind to go down this rabbit hole of misery. When I caught my mind going down the path of negativity, I stopped it and reminded myself that this path does not lead to enlightenment. It only leads to the hell realm, and I was only causing myself pain by traveling down it. To provide a healthier alternative for my active mind, I did the loving-kindness meditation. When found my mind wandering down the familiar path, I again reminded myself that this path only leads to more suffering.
One morning when practicing the loving-kindness meditation I realized that the warm, peace of loving-kindness is where I would like to reside. That this oasis from the misery of the negative emotions: anger, resentment and ill will is where I wish to dwell. This desire increases my motivation to continue the loving-kindness practice. It is simply a more pleasant place to be. The payoff of harboring negative emotions is misery for oneself. Though fueling these emotions can sometimes be seductive, the place that path leads is pain and suffering. Practicing loving-kindness is the way to peace and happiness, for all sentient beings. KB
Photo: acaben, flickr Creative Commons 2.0