When the latest edition of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology magazine arrived in my mailbox, I scanned the front cover while nodding in approval. The cover highlighted the titles of articles in the way all magazine covers do. Yet this issue’s focus was clear: gun violence, self-care, smartphones and mental health, plus bold lettering for the words, dismantling racism: psychology’s urgent need. I thought how poignant and how necessary. These literary contributions are a must at this time. A recent newspaper scan or nightly news hour this month alone tells all; I need not say more. This month’s mail also contained correspondence related to current statistics on hate crimes and hate group activity in the U.S. sent from the Southern Poverty Law Center. While the COVID-19 pandemic we are all experiencing has stifled and slowed many things down, it did not appear to reduce violence and hate. I’m not suggesting it would or could, rather I am sharing a wish.
Living nonviolently is an active process – one that takes daily commitment and a lot of effort. Just because psychologists are experts in human behavior doesn’t mean we are not susceptible to making the same mistakes or errors in judgment as anyone else. While in a therapy session, we may feel grateful for being granted the privilege of supporting another’s development, fostering empathy or cultivating compassion, and yet we must do this inner work on and for ourselves. I believe everyone, no matter their position or role, should play a part in feeding the world’s people what is needed to blossom…to bloom. Unfortunately, we appear to be collectively withering in many ways. It appears we have forgotten that we exist both as individuals and as a collective. Many years ago I was taught loving-kindness meditation and recognize the ethical imperative of participating in this kind of practice now more than ever. If you agree, read on. Below, I will share with you how it is done.
Loving-kindness meditation sends compassion and love to others as well as to ourselves. We begin this practice as we would many other forms of silent sitting meditation, on the floor or in a chair. Then turn the attention inward, towards the breath. With each breath, notice a sense of relaxation coming in. Let go of mental chatter pulling you into the past or future. Stay with the breath, and since we begin this practice with ourselves, you may like to keep the focus on your heart center or imagine yourself as a young child. Then, recite the following inwardly, nonvocally, several times:
May I be filled with loving-kindness.
May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May I be well in body and mind.
May I be at ease and happy.
Practice this each day for an entire week to become familiar and comfortable, allowing the love to grow over time. If it feels mechanical, that’s okay, just keep going. If you experience anger, frustration or sadness, allow it. Remember to be gentle. Keep going.
Once this process becomes a bit more comfortable – and it’s okay if you need more than one week – we add the second piece. Just as before, use your imagination again, this time to ‘see’ another person in your mind’s eye. While picturing that person, recite the following inwardly, nonvocally:
May you be filled with loving-kindness.
May you be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May you be well in body and mind.
May you be at ease and happy.
Repeat this portion several times, just as you did for yourself.
To participate in this practice as it was intended, begin with yourself then, shift to the other (unless, for whatever reason, that becomes too difficult).
There you have it – a powerful tool that can be done anytime during one’s day and it takes just a few intentional minutes. That’s so little time when considering the resulting mental-emotional shift that remains lasting. What would the world be like if everyone made this a part of their day?
Since I have learned so much from Jack Kornfield, PhD I’m providing you with a link to his website where he provides additional details. Dr. Kornfield is a psychologist and has taught meditation for over four decades, in addition to his training as a Buddhist monk in several monasteries throughout Asia. I was initially introduced to loving-kindness by him. You may find Kornfield here: https://jackkornfield.com/meditation-lovingkindness/
One thing this world needs from us is more empathy and compassion. Through the practice of loving-kindness, we take a step in the right direction.