Of all the skills we learn in life, perhaps the most important one is to develop loving kindness. If you have ever succumbed to bouts of self-doubt, then you know what I mean. Often, we are not very kind or loving toward ourselves at all.
What is Loving Kindness?
Loving kindness is the simple aspiration to be happy. This includes wishing for our own happiness, as well as the happiness of all sentient beings. But it’s more than a wish – it is the confidence that we can actually be happy – that we deserve to be happy – and it involves an active participation in that process. And it is more than temporary happiness we seek. True happiness is not dependent on outer circumstances; it comes from within. We must learn to recognize true happiness before we can aspire to it. This recognition of what makes us happy is called developing loving kindness. When we can extend loving kindness to our selves, then we can extend it to others.
What Inhibits Loving Kindness?
Essentially, whenever we compare ourselves to others, we inhibit loving kindness. Pressure to fit in, or look a certain way, or accomplish goals can make us feel like we fall short. Often, that pressure is our own state of mind responding to the “outside” world – the world of phenomena.
It’s to easy to get caught up in all the noise happening in the world these days. We have access to it 24/7. And this noise can wreak havoc on our state of mind. It induces fear, anger, hope, insecurity, jealousy, competition, judgement. Getting caught up in the noise of the world takes us out of the present moment. It takes heroic discipline to avoid getting hooked.
So how do we avoid getting hooked?
By developing loving kindness. By recognizing that you are whole and complete just as you are, right here and right now. By making a habit – a practice – of returning to the present moment without elaboration. In short, by practicing meditation. (And it wouldn’t hurt to schedule periods of internet abstinence!)
Sometimes it seems easier to be kind to others than it is to be kind to ourselves. If this is true for you, try looking at yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you, and see what you see.
In both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, there is a practice called the 4 Immeasurables (Brahma vihara) to work with developing loving kindness (maitri), compassion (karuna), empathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upeksa.) In the next few weeks I’m going to share a simple practice to invite each of these 4 immeasurable “wisdoms” into our lives.
A Practice to Develop Loving Kindness.
Years ago while on retreat I learned a wonderful mantra that helps remind me to return to loving kindness when I start getting hard on myself. I offer it here in case it might help you remember that you perfect just as you are, and exactly where you are meant to be:
May I be happy,
May I be well,
May I let go of the past.
You can also make this aspiration for others:
May you be happy,
May you be well,
May you let go of the past.