by guest author Peter Fernando, Meditation and Mindfulness
In many traditions, the practice of kindness and love is an integral part of the meditative journey. You may wonder, ‘why?’
Sometimes the way that the concept of ‘mindfulness’ is presented can make it seem like a utilitarian technique to become more efficient, or more functional in the world. This is certainly a part of it, of course. But then there’s the love thing.
You can’t go too far into any authentic contemplative tradition without coming across a profound emphasis on love, kindness, open-heartedness.
The Sufis have it, big time.
The Buddha was totally into it.
B.K.S Iyengar talks about it in Light on Yoga.
The Dalai Lama embodies it.
So it’s a big thing, it would seem.
Can you think of any wise sage or saint from history who wasn’t also profoundly loving? Even when you read about the hardcore Zen monks from days of old, you end up hearing about their deep compassion, tenderness and love.
So it’s universal. It’s something innate in being human. It’s something we deeply long for, and yet so easily forget.
One of the main functions of meditation practice is to begin to unbind states of mind that are tight, afflicted and contracted.
There are many ways of going about this. We can approach it from an ‘insight’ perspective – deeply looking, and seeing with clarity. Or a concentration perspective – calming and steadying the mind, so that it becomes stronger and brighter that those states. Or we can feel into this quality of loving – an innate, often buried expression of our real humanness.
When the heart is connected to a genuine sense of loving, there is much less of a sense of ‘problem’. There is a kind of intrinsic happiness to it. It’s a feeling tone. An energetic state.
You can even focus on it exclusively as a meditation object.
I went through a period of seemingly immovable stuck-ness and depression about 10 years ago. Although I was doing a lot of ‘seeing’, I had forgotten about the love factor. My seeing had become infused with a kind of pessimism. So, I thought I was seeing clearly, but I was subtly creating a negative perception of what I was seeing at the same time!
I went to see my teacher, splurging out my gloom. After listening patiently, he reminded me, kindly but firmly;
You know that this path is about happiness, right? It’s not about suffering!.
Somewhat embarrassed, I realized that I’d taken a left turn somewhere along the way, and forgotten about the heart.
And then he instructed me to only practice the meditation on loving-kindness for 2 months. Only that. Nothing else. Because, as he put it;
The loving heart is the same as happiness.
‘Oh, yeah…’ Until then I’d never made that connection. Kindness = happiness. Right…
I am usually quite a stubborn, individualistic sort, so when people tell me to do things a certain way, I secretly do them my own way. It’s a bad habit from my teenage years… But in this instance, I actually followed his instructions.
After about 4 days I noticed a shift happening in my mind. The quality of loving was opening and brightening my whole sense of myself, including my outlook on life. Optimism was returning. Joyful appreciation was coming alive again. I was quite stunned at how powerful it was.
Every day, each sit (well, most sits) went something like this:
10 minutes – Bring to mind a close friend and allow the heart to open and rejoice in their friendship, and then send out heartfelt well wishing to them. Nice.
10 minutes – Then bring to mind someone neutral – someone who I’ve seen, but don’t know personally. Send them the same feelings of well-wishing and affection. Cool.
10 minutes – Then… the ‘interesting’ bit: bring to mind someone who I’m having difficulties with, and see if the heart can feel into their human-ness, their own vulnerability and send them the same feeling of sincere well-wishing. Challenging, but revealing.
10 minutes – To finish, send the feeling in all directions, imagining people, animals, insects, big, small, rich, poor, happy, sad. Expansive, all-inclusive.
Each sit was an adventure, and definitely not without its challenges. But in the process a light began to shine on the inside.
I began to feel happy.
As time went by I probably got a bit too high, though, and people started to look at me as if I was a bit of a freak. Admittedly I took it a bit too far, and had started smiling at people for no reason. At 4:30am in a monastery this isn’t a great idea.
I realized that maybe I needed to integrate it with a more ‘normal’ state again.
But since that time, I have noticed that there is a center in the heart that trusts the capacity for love. Even though I get grumpy and miserable, and my mind states get tight and mucky, there is a pathway into that quality of loving. Or at least a trust that it’s possible!
You can see why it’s an important aspect of meditation practice, then. It seems to be a fundamental aspect of our humanity. When I lose it, then even the most rigorous practices, the most devoted application of a technique will leave me feeling barren and dry in my heart.
But when there’s a remembering of this innate resonance of kindness, open-ness and loving, any practice I do flows with much greater ease.
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