Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone started their day by cultivating lovingkindness in their hearts? (I’m an idealist. I like to imagine these things. I like to think that anything is possible.)
Maybe that’s too big.
I should start smaller. How would my day, my interactions, my heart change if I started my day by cultivating lovingkindness in my heart? What effect would this have on my family? On the people that I encounter? Who is to say that this ripple effect can’t ultimately change the world in some fashion? (See what I mean about the idealist thing?)
What changes the world? Transformed hearts.
What changes hearts? Love–the knowledge that you are deeply loved, held in love, and that you are asked to receive and give this Love. This Love is foundational to our being. It is what holds the universe together. This is God’s love for you.
Love changes how I treat myself and how I respond to others. Being grounded in this Love changes what I need from others and what I have to give. Something that would have hurt my feelings last year has less power to do so now, because my heart is grounded in Love. I don’t feel the need to hide who I am; I’m not so desperate for approval or afraid of making bad impressions; fear and shame have less power in my life—when I am grounded in Love. I can be myself—my deep down self—because I am grounded in Love.
I’m trying to pay attention to the state of my heart. Is it open? Is it spacious? I’m trying to recognize when it starts to close down, harden, and tighten. I’m learning to pause in these moments to look at what is going on and ask “why?” The openness or tightness of my heart is like a barometer to my soul’s well-being.
I’m trying to cultivate practices that help train my heart toward love. I’m trying to make space in my heart and in my life for Love to grow in me and to ground me; I’m trying to make space so Love can do Love’s thing. (Or God can do God’s thing.)
One practice that I’ve found beautiful and powerful is called Lovingkindness Practice. It’s something I’d like to practice everyday.
The first time that I tried it was after a serious wrestling match with shame. I needed to spend the entire time in one step—finding that love for myself and sitting with that love for quite some time. It was profoundly healing.
I’ve adapted the practice described below from Pema Chödrön’s description of the practice in her book The Places That Scare You. Richard Rohr also describes the practice here. Don’t be afraid to the make the practice or prayer your own.
“Each stage gives us a further chance to loosen up the tightness of our hearts.” –Pema Chödrön
- Sit quietly for a few minutes.
- Identify the place of tender lovingkindness in yourself. It helps me to think about the love I feel toward my child in a tender moment. You can begin with any loved one. Recognize and honor that feeling in your heart. Begin by blessing that person. Maybe you will want to say: “May [loved one] be rooted and grounded in love.” Send lovingkindness toward that person.
- Can you bring yourself into this place of lovingkindness? The you of today? If you are working through shame, you might want to picture who you were in that moment that brings you that shame. It might help to picture yourself wrapped up in God’s love. Or to picture Jesus holding your hand, and you holding your 18-year-old self’s hand (or wherever you need healing). Sit with this for as long as you need to. Extend that blessing to yourself: for example, “May I know love and be rooted in love.” Extend that lovingkindess toward yourself.
- Come back to that tender place in your heart. Think of a friend–the relationship might be more complicated than the one in which you identified your tender love. Bless her and send lovingkindness her way.
- Think of a neutral person. Someone you don’t really know and don’t feel much toward. Maybe it’s the mail carrier or a neighbor you don’t know but see walking their dog by your house every evening. Bless them. Watch to see if your heart opens or closes down. If you can, send lovingkindness her way.
- Think of someone who is difficult for you to enjoy or is difficult for you to be around. This might be easier during election season. Don’t overwhelm yourself by starting with the most difficult person you know. Bless them. If you are able, send them your lovingkindness.
- Vizualize yourself, your loved one, your friend, the neutral party, the difficult person. Try to connect with the feeling of a kind heart for all of these individuals. Bring them all into the stream of flowing love and hold them there for a few minutes.
- Expand this lovingkindness toward all beings, bless as far as you can.
- Come back to a place of quiet and just be.
Have you tried Lovingkindness Practice? What helps your heart to open? I’d love to hear about your experience.