Love is on my mind today. Love of others and love of ourselves. Two issues arise again and again when I teach about lovingkindness and mindfulness: the lack of self-compassion and the lingering hurt in relationships. Luckily, there is a lovingkindness mindfulness practice you can learn that addresses both.
In terms of self-compassion, many of us find it far easier to be loving and kind to others than to our own selves. We have a self-critical commentary running in the background of our thoughts throughout the day: “I shouldn’t have said that…I messed up…Will I ever learn….”
Having this kind of negative self-talk wears on own hearts and souls. Additionally, self-criticism “impacts our bodies by stimulating inflammatory mechanisms that lead to chronic illness and accelerate aging” says Dr. Richard Davidson in a recent New York Times article.
Importantly, self-compassion and lovingkindness can be learned and the practice I’m going to share with you is perfect.
Compassion for Difficult People
Secondly, almost everyone has a hurtful relationship with someone, either living or dead, that continues to gnaw at them. It could be a family member or even someone at work you can’t avoid.
Some of these people are those who will not or cannot change, or refuse to apologize. Sometimes, someone does not even know that their behavior or words are painful. Other times, you are not in a situation where you can work this out with them. Lovingkindness practice can be used to soften your own heart in these circumstances.
My own personal experience is that sometimes when I do this lovingkindness practice, my hurt and anger is eased, without hauling everyone into talk therapy.
Lovingkindness meditation practice is a core teaching in the Buddhist tradition called “metta”. In Judaism, I have often taught this practice in the context of the Priestly Benediction found in the Torah.
The Jewish practice has its roots in the priests bestowing blessing upon the whole community, channeled from the Divine. “May God bless you and protect you, May the Holy One shine upon you and grant you grace, May the Eternal bless you with favor and peace.” Numbers 6:24-26
The practice itself is simple and like anything, it requires regularity. You repeat four phrases over and over, at your own pace.
The expressions I recommend are these:
May _________ be safe.
May _________ be content.
May _________ be strong.
May _________ live with ease.
First, you direct these phrases to yourself. If you need to develop more self-compassion, you can just do this part. For example: May I be safe….May I be content….
Then, you vision someone you love in your mind’s eye and extend these phrases to them: May you be safe…
When you want to grow your lovingkindness in order to heal a relationship or soften your feelings about a person with whom you have difficulty, you can then envision this person and direct the phrases to them. This is where this practice is truly miraculous: May so-and-so be safe….
Lovingkindness Practice Through Music
The talented singer-songwriter Elana Arian has written a gorgeous piece of music that teaches this practice using slightly different blessings, but with the gift of her voice and music. She writes:
A meditation in song. May we be safe, may we be free…
Inspired by Loving Kindness Meditation (may I be happy, may I be healthy, may my life flow with ease…) and Birkat Kohanim (Numbers 6:24-26). The Hebrew, “ken y’hi ratzon” means “may it be so.
You can learn more about Elana’s glorious music at her website: www.elanaarian.com
I hope you will find a way to include this Lovingkindness Blessing practice in your life.
I teach this in Hineni and in the upcoming course A Mindful Summer. Let me know if you’d like to be notified when the dates are set for the summer class. Also, I’ve written more about the practice here.