As we move into the Day of Love, I’d like to share Sharon Salzberg‘s teachings on loving-kindness meditation, or “metta”, meaning boundless friendship toward oneself and others.
Lovingkindness meditation gives you a new way to connect with everyone — even the difficult people in your life.
“The practice of loving-kindness meditation brings to life our innate capacity for connecting to ourselves and others. The loving kindness we cultivate breaks through the habit of indifference or judgment that keeps us feeling separate from others. A capacity for friendship and kindness exists within each of us, without exception. No matter what pain we might have gone through in our lives, that capacity is never destroyed. It may be – and often is – obscured, but it’s there.” This thought parallels yoga philosophy in that there is always a flame burning brightly in the heart, but it is often covered over by samskaras, or negative impressions like jealousy, resentment, and anger. Our job of a lifetime is to rekindle the everlasting fire in our hearts.
What I find most interesting about loving-kindness meditation is, besides meditating on sending love to yourself and those closest to you (by reciting certain phrases during your meditation such as, “may I be happy; may I be healthy, may I live with ease”); you are also instructed to send the same feelings to people you dislike, people who are difficult in your life. It is not a forced practice, nor are you anticipating any specific response. But what you are doing is learning to open your heart. This is a bold undertaking: to think of someone you are estranged from or resent or have jealousy towards and send him thoughts of love and well-being. If it is disturbing for you to do this, and feelings of annoyance arise, simply go back to your breathing and recite the phrases to yourself again (“may I be happy; may I be healthy; may I live with ease”). Then picture someone you deeply care for and send those thoughts to him). Lastly, go back to the difficult person, picture him in your mind’s eye, and send the same thoughts his way again. It is inevitable conditions in life will deeply hurt us. Our hearts will break open into a million pieces. And once they break open, we are vulnerable and raw; but here is the pivot point. We can work with this rawness to let go of ill feelings and practice filling our hearts again, softening with each new disappointment. Or, we can continue with our negative leanings, and build up another hard wall of resentment. We have a choice.
Finally, in your meditation, go beyond yourself, your loved ones, and the difficult person by
offering the phrases to everyone, without exception, and without distinction:
“May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy.
May all beings live with ease.”
Like anything, a change in perspective comes with steady practice.
We can go beyond our perceived limitations and open our lives to people far beyond immediate family members, to the world at large.
I believe this engenders a greater open-heartedness, less judgment, and a way to live our lives with increased peace and ease, regardless of our outside circumstances.
Meditation is first and foremost the most important practice of my life. In my younger years,
practicing both karate and yoga, there was a tendency to push towards something, working hard to gain a foothold in a routine, get deeper into a pose, all with a sense of forced effort. That was the beginning. Years later, I learned the “asana” or yoga pose, is perfected on relaxation of effort; this teaching was delivered, unfortunately and fortunately, via an injury.
It was at this juncture that my yoga practice slowed down. It was only then I was introduced to the benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi. The movements are slow, so slow I can pay greater attention to my breath, and feel the giving and receiving of energy on each inhalation and exhalation, an element missed when moving too quickly, or applying too much effort.
A yoga teacher once said, “do everything 10% slower.” My thoughts on that advice is do everything 25% slower, or more! Slow deliberate movement anchors the mind in sensation, and helps to drop your awareness to a deeper place within.
See Michael Costa perform QiGong with the beautiful accompanying music of David Stringer‘s chant, “Universal Prayer”). Michael’s QiGong practice serves to open the heart, slow the mind and create peace within. One practice, one day, one moment at a time.
May you be happy. May you be healthy.
May you live with ease.