Tag Archives: loving-kindness

Letting go

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So much of our pain is caused by holding on – to feelings, possessions, people (who we often treat as if they are possessions).  If we could learn to let go more easily, accepting that everything changes and evolves over time, perhaps even making room for a new and equally exciting phase of our lives, we would have an easier time emotionally. And when the pain does feel too much to bear, we allow ourselves to truly feel the intensity of that pain so that it can, in its own time, lessen its grip on our heart. 

Pema Chodron talks of the way in which pain wakes us up, cracking us open with the ‘sheer force of whatever energy arises’ (‘When Things Fall Apart’ p23) and allowing us to recognise the oneness between us all, fostering our growing sense of compassion – maitri, or loving-kindness.

I have just finished reading a short story by Rachel Joyce, ‘A Faraway Smell of Lemon’, which beautifully evokes the way in which we need to open ourselves to the pain of changes we might never have chosen, to accept the fundamental impermanence of everything in our lives. I don’t want to spoil the story, but would love to include a quote from the end of the story, where the protagonist is reflecting that:

No matter how much she rails,  some things are gone forever….. So why, then, do we behave as if everything we have blessed with our loving should be ours for keeps? It is enough to have tiptoed to that space beyond the skin, beyond the nerve endings,  and to have glimpsed things that beforehand we only half knew.

This is a very short story but one which it is worth taking time over. There are great insights too into the way mindfulness of our everyday activities can help us by providing an anchor in times of difficulty, soothing a troubled and pained mind.

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True giving

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Think about the last time you gave someone something – your time, your friendship, a smile, or a gift of some kind.  If you are totally honest with yourself, did you truly give without expectation of return?  So often we give to others as if we are entering into an unspoken contract with them; we are thinking ‘I’ll cook you dinner this week, then it will be your turn’, or ‘I’m looking after your child, so when I need someone to do the same for me, I know you’ll offer’.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with this per se – reciprocity has been the foundation of our economics for centuries – it is a world apart from true giving.  Of course it is reasonable to expect that if we smile at someone, they will smile and be friendly back.  If they don’t, we may not smile so readily ourselves the next time we see them.  But sometimes we must give for the sake of giving.  When we donate to a good cause, we are not expecting any benefit to ourselves, at least in the short term.  We give because someone or something else’s plight has touched our hearts.  We give because we care, because we have allowed something external to ourselves into our hearts.

When we offer our help, our companionship and our time to our friends and neighbours, we may well find that they reciprocate.  But when they don’t, that can be fine too.  We help because we want to help.  Because we can empathise with their situation, and with their needs.  When we truly give, we give selflessly, and without thought of ourselves.  We are in touch with our more spiritual selves, with our sense of compassion,  as we open our hearts to those around us, and make their needs greater than our own.

Opening the heart

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heart-1213481_1280Many times in my previous posts, I’ve written about the need for us to stay with our difficult emotions, rather than to run away and hide from them.  When we run away, or try to ignore our more challenging feelings, we make them even bigger than they really are.  If we take respite in our usual mental processes, making ourselves right and the whole world wrong, the effort of holding on so tightly to our own beliefs can be literally exhausting.  If we run away and pretend  everything is fine, those same feelings will usually surface again the next time we feel pushed and squeezed by the circumstances of our lives.

Sometimes our feelings are just so huge that they cannot be ignored, and we cannot run away.  At these times, we find that very shaky, insecure being we actually are behind the solid walls we like to create –  the persona we like to present to the world.  We become more truly ourselves.  It takes real courage to face this part of ourselves head on.  But if you imagine that all your dammed-up emotions are like a fortress, then a crisis can be quite liberating – although it certainly won’t feel like it at the time.

When everything feels wrong, when we cannot feel good about ourselves, it’s time to allow what seems like a disaster to open us up, to soften us and to chip away at those fortress walls.  As Pema Chodron writes, in ‘When Things Fall  Apart’,

“It’ s a kind of testing, the kind of testing that spiritual warriors need in order to awaken their hearts.”

We find the softness deep in our hearts.  We start to dissolve the barriers we have built up over the years. We learn to truly experience our own suffering, both large and small, and so develop more empathy for the trials of others.  We begin to tune in to the true quality of our heart chakra, Anahata.  We find compassion for others as well as for ourselves.  We develop maitri, or loving-kindness. We welcome the opportunities we encounter to grow – embracing our disappointments, our sadness, our anger.  The good news is we don’t need to go out of our way to find these opportunities – we will all find that plenty come our way!

 

Loving-kindness

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In Buddhism, as well as in yoga philosophy, there is a term maitri, which means loving-kindness or friendliness.  Imagine someone you hold most dear:  a partner, a parent, a child.  Feel that very simple and uncomplicated love –  an unconditional love which means you love them despite any of their faults;  you want only the best for them;  you talk and act in kindness to them.  This is maitri.

Now try to apply that kind of loving to yourself.  Can you be that kind, that uncritical, that forgiving, that accepting of who you are?  This is something a lot of us find hard to do.  What kind of language do you use when you talk to yourself?  Do you call yourself names, do you criticise yourself and laugh at your own dreams?  There are plenty of others who will do that for you.

Now think about someone in your life who is difficult, someone who is tricky to get along with.  Can you apply this  loving-kindness to them?  Hard, isn’t it?!  And yet this is something we all need to try to become a more loving, caring and peaceful society.

Buddhists practise meditations in which they expand their ability to love, from their most dearly loved, through to themselves, their friends and neighbours, to those they have no strong feelings about either way – they don’t love them but they have no negative feelings about them either. Only when this feels easier do they start to expand their circle of loving-kindness even wider – to those truly difficult people in life, and to those they have never met.

To apply this practice in our own lives, we start with ourselves , or with our loved ones, and work outwards in ever-increasing circles of love and kindness. We start to see more clearly that others are not so very different from ourselves, and we see the ways in which we make them different – the ways in which we use our attitudes and our beliefs to put a wall around ourselves.  Working gently with ourselves can help us to show more compassion to others as well.   Talking more positively to ourselves, switching off the negative mind-chatter through meditation or yoga practice, can enable us to grow into our true potential.  Cultivating maitri towards ourselves and others is one of the ways that Patanjali recommends for creating a calm and peaceful mind, alongside compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity (Samadhi Pada, Sutra 33).