"Gentleness, kindness and love are more than places to visit. They are places we can take with us wherever we go." ~ Melodie Beattie
As my month of focus on gratitude drew to a close, I felt compelled to dive into the concept of kindness. As my original plan for this month was to commit to my meditation practice, I wanted a way to put the two together. For some odd reason it took my brain way to long to realize that loving-kindness (metta) meditation was the obvious answer. I also wanted there to action around my intention to kindness. So, I chose to go into the month with an intention to practice loving-kindness meditation daily and to purposefully look for ways to be kind in my days.
I was already acquainted with the basic premise of the Buddhist practice of loving-kindness meditation. To put it very simply, you begin with several phrases of good-will and offer them up to yourself. I chose the following for my practice: may I be safe, may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be at peace. I could have selected anything at all, but these resonated for me. You then proceed to extend these same affirmations to someone you love, a neutral person, someone who is a challenge to you (easier said than done) and finally to all sentient beings. I found an excellent resource in Sharon Salzberg's book Lovingkindess: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness. It was surprisingly easy to settle into the practice of lovingkindness meditation and I found the repetition of the phrases to be very peaceful and uplifting.
Beginning with self may sound overly egotistical, over time I came to realize how powerful this truly is. Extending loving kindness toward myself was key to being open to being able to extend both word and deed to others. The true power became clear to me one night when I woke up in the midst of an upsetting dream. I found myself naturally recounting the metta phrases. They were comforting and I was able to release the disturbing thoughts and images that had arisen. In the past this sort of experience would have had me up for hours recounting both the dream and other difficult life story lines that my mind brought up. Since this realization, loving kindness toward myself, instead of settling into destructive and mentally draining thought patterns, has become my default.
This meditation has also crept into my interaction with others. In the middle of the month of settling into the practice I found myself spontaneously extending loving kindness to someone I did not know. I was driving home in heavy traffic and had what I can kindly describe as a distracted driver attempt to cut me off multiple times. They succeeded on the third attempt, forcing me to jam on my brakes to keep from hitting their vehicle. My initial response was that of most human beings to yell and offer a one finger greeting to the driver. For a split second my intention was to follow through on those unprofitable actions, but something inside me went instead to offering this individual the phrases of loving kindness. As I repeated the phrases to myself, my anger subsided and I found myself considering this person. Perhaps they had something painful they were dealing with or were attempting to quickly get to somewhere for any variety or challenging things. Whether or not these feelings were accurate really does not matter, the important thing is that my attitude to them was changed. This is one isolated experience, but I am grateful that I now have this tool to cope with challenging people.
The second piece of my focus for the month was based in action. How could I find more ways to offer up kind acts in my day? The quote from Princess Diana: "Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.", reminded me that action toward others will also I have impact on me. I started simple and small, picking up trash that had spilled into the neighbors yard. This progressed to giving from my abundance. I think it is a fairly typical experience to either look away from a homeless individual or worse yet form judgement statements about the reasons they are in their state or where the monetary donations are going (I am guilty of all these). I made a purposeful choice in this exploration of kindness to offer a warm smile and some donation to the individuals I encountered whenever the opportunity was presented to me. Whether or not there is a universal reciprocal moment in the future, the immediate warmth I received in extending kindness was enough.
These are just a few of the powerful experiences I encountered in my search for loving kindness and my sincere hope is that I inspire you to consider adding more kindness into your life. Kindness has become a key piece in my pursuit of a mindful life.