Our lives are filled with many tasks, roles and responsibilities. In everything that we do, we can fill our lives with judgement and commentary or we can fill it with gratitude and loving-kindness. There are many things in our lives that don’t unfold how we anticipate they will. In these moments, we often default to habitual patterns of negativity and unhappiness. It is in these moments, especially at these times, we must treat ourselves and others with loving-kindness. It is easy to be loving and kind when life is going our way. We must be vigilant during difficult times to remain conscious enough to speak and act from loving-kindness. In this week’s blog I thought I would share some thoughts on the topic of loving-kindness.
We need to be loving towards ourselves at all times. When we are happy, or with someone we are fond of, we naturally feel loving-kindness within us. It is in those challenging moments that compassion towards ourselves disappears. Observing things within ourselves that we don’t like results in thoughts of judgement or anger. Perceived failures, either in work or relationships, is often followed with self-criticism. At times, looking in the mirror at ourselves we can have critical comments about our appearance. We are housed within this amazing, living machine that can heal itself, travel distances, lift and carry things, see and hear worldly sounds. The vessel that we find ourselves in is ours from birth to death. Our body is our temple. Practice loving-kindness towards your body. Speak to yourself in loving ways. For example, I am loving towards my eyes that allow me to see. I am loving towards my ears that allow me to hear. I am loving towards my mouth that allows me to communicate and be nourished. When challenging moments of doubt or negation surface, be kind and gentle with yourself. Notice your thoughts and choose words that reflect this compassion, such as “I love myself as I am” or “I am doing my very best in each and every moment”.
Loving-kindness must also be extended to others. Typically this is easier to do with those that are closer to us but this is not always the case. In close relationships, we have kindness and compassion for people who play key roles in our lives. They are important to us. They help us to feel good about ourselves. Yet, there are times when these close relationships, which are our reflections, mirror back to us aspects of ourselves that we don’t like. A spouse forgets to take out the garbage and we feel angry. Our child throws a tantrum because he/she doesn’t get their way. When we react to these events or people, it brings up feelings with us that we feel uncomfortable with and don’t want to look at. At times, we can react with impatience and anger saying things that hurt the other person. Our closest relationships are our greatest teachers. They show us things about ourselves that we don’t know or hide under the rug. In moments of frustration with others, we must be more vigilant in looking at what is underneath whatever is surfacing. We need to take a moment to breathe, observe what is coming up and to respond in a way that is loving. Compassion for others is compassion for ourselves. Sometimes the most compassionate thing one can do is to speak the truth but in a way that is with loving-kindness.
There are times when we treat acquaintances or strangers with greater compassion than those we are closest to in our lives. It may be easier to be compassionate towards someone who we have just met. We have no history with these individuals. Habitual patterns of relationships have not been established and therefore we often allow greater leeway. These contacts are less of an ongoing mirror for us so we are more forgiving. Yet, everyone is a reflection of us and our perceptions of life. A stranger on the street asking for money. A stranger sitting on the train next to us can be a teacher in seeing things we have never seen within ourselves. Treating everyone that we encounter with loving-kindness creates a world of compassion and gentleness.
Loving-kindness must be extended to all living things. Our compassion needs to encompass the animals in the world. We find being loving towards our pets easy. They are like our children that we love and care for, for which we receive love and kindness back. Similarly, the insects that are in our homes and surrounds should be treat with gentleness. Each living creation on land, sea and in the air is a living breathing being. Each of us has some animals or creature that brings up feelings of anxiety or fear. My youngest daughter has a great fear of spiders. My best friend is terrified of mice. I have a fear of bats. Still, we must find compassion and loving-kindness for all creatures, loved and feared. In my life, this has been a factor in my decision to be a vegetarian many years ago. Treating all living beings with kindness and love reflects how we are able to be loving towards all aspects of ourselves, great and small.
We must expand loving kindness to include our enemies. Our adversaries reflect some of the deepest aspects of ourselves that we don’t like. Listening with gentleness to those that we have strong negative feelings towards can provide great insight into aspects of our self that we reject. It is only in understanding our foes that we can seek to let go of perceptions preventing us from loving all parts of our self. Each human being deserves to be treated with compassion. The Dalai Lama has spoken on this many times and in particular in regard to the People’s Republic of China. He has been quoted as saying “…we accept that others have an equal right to peace and happiness as ourselves…” An enemy today can be an ally tomorrow. There are war-time stories where opposing soldiers have treated each other with compassion, rare though it may be. I recall a famous World War I story of how rival armies sang Christmas songs and stopped fighting for a number of hours in the battle field during Christmas Eve. We are not so different from each other. In fact, we are more similar than we admit and it is those similarities reflected back to us that has been the cause of some wars. One may not be able to love their enemies, at least not right away, but treating everyone with kindness and compassion can go a long way to resolving some of the world’s biggest crisis.
Meditation provides the framework for generating loving-kindness in your own being. It helps one in training to be present with whatever is happening; to see one’s own judgements and limiting perceptions. Meditation creates compassion for oneself and in so doing creates compassion for others. Loving-kindness begins with ourselves and extends out to our family, friends and community.
During your week, look for moments when you can be more kind to yourself and others. Even if only for a moment, extend loving-kindness in moments of difficulty and challenge. You may be surprised by the positive consequences. My gratitude and deep respect to all of my teachers for their loving-kindness towards me.