Introducing Lovingkindness into My Life
I sit down to meditate every morning for 30 minutes to an hour as time and will permit. Meditation is the staple of my day. If perchance I miss a sitting, which doesn’t happen often, my day feels incomplete. More than that, however, is the awareness that I have to work much harder to connect with others throughout the day than if I had taken the time to sit. I believe there are two reasons for this.
First, when we meditate we are taking the time to connect with ourselves and confront our inner workings. We gain insight into the way in which we relate to the world and others. It is the notion that we must attend to ourselves first before we may attend to and fully connect with others.
Secondly, and more importantly (for the purpose of this article) is that I include lovingkindness or metta into my daily practice. I’ve spoken about this before, but if you’re unfamiliar, lovingkindness is a Buddhist concept that calls for the cultivation of good will toward all beings.
Now some of you may be thinking, ‘well I’m not Buddhist, and the idea of loving everyone seems ridiculous and impossible.’ Even if you are Buddhist, chances are you’ve had that thought. I know I have. In fact, I still have that thought very frequently. I use that aversion as part of my practice.
The truth is that I’ve found the practice of lovingkindness to be the single most helpful aspect of my overall practice. I’ve practiced meditation consistently for a little over a year, but it’s only been in the past few months that I’ve integrated metta in a consistent way.
Before that I primarily focused on building concentration, which has helped immensely in my quest for insight, but after about 9 months of that I began to sense something was missing. I had learned to integrate mindfulness into my daily life even off the cushion, which is a wonderful feeling, but what I noticed (perhaps due to the mindfulness) was a distance between myself and others.
Overcoming the Resistance
I had read about lovingkindness and its benefits before, but it was always something I had put off. I had imposed a sort of hold on it until…until when? Until I cultivated supreme concentration? Until I felt like it (which might have been never)? In any case, neither of those things seemed like reasons so much as excuses.
My guess is that metta comes easier to some than it does to others. I believe everyone has the capacity for good will, but some must dig a little deeper. As the oldest sibling in a family with four children, I’ve always been caring and very prone to empathy. However, it seems that for that very reason, I experienced extreme resistance to lovingkindness at first. I suppose the thought was, “I already care so much about so many people. Meditation is MY time. Why should I open myself to others during this deliberately selfish period of time? How can I?”
Despite those gripes, I plunged into metta. It was difficult for the first few weeks. It felt like meaningless praying at first. So I sat and reassessed. Metta is a type of meditation. If that’s the case then it ultimately is more about the meditator than the people we’re generating good will toward. With that thought I began to approach it differently. Instead of dragging myself through the ritual, I began to notice the subtleties of feeling and thought that cropped up when I held myself or someone else in my mind during metta.
I saw the resistance. There was anger there, ill will, unskillful thought. As I looked more and more at those things, they started to arise less and less. What I was left with was a feeling of intense joy, presence and good will toward others. Now, I’m not saying I’ve mastered it. I still have days where I’m extremely resistant to practicing lovingkindness, but I do it anyway. And I’m learning how to work through the resistance. In any case, it has begun to seep into the rest of my life, and I cannot imagine meditating without at least a brief period of metta practice.
Kindness, Compassion, and Empathy Alter Our Existence
As a result, I’ve experienced an opening up toward other people. I’m not so quick to judge or blame. I feel more comfortable around people I don’t know. I find myself looking at random people wondering who they are and wishing the best for them. I’ve found this can be a practice in itself (see observing a stranger).
One does not have to be Buddhist or even religious to understand and implement this practice. Nor does one need to meditate (though I think it is a very clear and useful way to go about it). The point is that a huge part of life is connection. We spend so much of our days connecting or avoiding connection with others. Why not learn to do it skillfully?
More than anyone else, it benefits you the individual. If you can generate compassion, empathy, and kindness toward another, think about what it means for you. You experience those states of mind. You discover where they are and how to get there, not only for others, but for yourself. Because ultimately, we all deserve our own compassion, empathy and friendship.
So I urge you to give it a try, whatever that may mean to you. You may be surprised to see how it enriches all of your current relationships and spurns the creation of new ones seemingly out of no where.
Wishing you metta this Tuesday.
By Terence Stone
Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained singer and actor living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.