When I think of people that regularly practice loving kindness images of monks and “zen type” folks that live in a monastery or behind the walls of a safe community come to mind. The story I make up in my head is that these people don’t have to deal with the “real world” problems you and I are faced with on a daily basis. My story continues in that I tell myself it must be so easy for them, tucked away in their perfect little world without having to deal with all the drama on the outside, so of course, it’s easy for them to practice loving kindness.
Of course, I know this isn’t true. Practicing loving kindness is a deliberate process, it doesn’t happen spontaneously. Furthermore, the more disciplined you become in practicing loving kindness, you will be faced with more and even greater challenges with which to practice!
Let me illustrate this for you by sharing a personal story. I began my journey into developing loving kindness practices began about nine years ago. Up until that point in my life, I thought I’d had things figured out in regard to my relationships with other people. If I disagreed with other’s opinions or behaviors, it was pretty simply to just lump them into various categories, “moron, idiot, uninformed, naïve, uneducated, selfish, jealous, arrogant, narrow minded”. I think you get the gist here. To be honest, there are still days when it’s easy for me to slip back into judging people through this lens, especially if they have an extremist agenda.
My practice of loving-kindness took shape by actively incorporating specific disciplines into my life. Some of these disciplines include: a contemplative prayer practice, mindfulness practices that include both mindfulness meditation and mindfulness breathing exercises, yoga, being of service to others, and journaling. These are creative activities that I draw from and strive to practice on a daily basis. I’ve also discovered that if something in my world feels out of whack, particularly in my relationships with others, returning to any one of these disciplines can help to get me centered again into a place of loving-kindness.
I tend to view the world through a spiritual lens, allow me to explain what this means. When I’m in a place of “spiritual fitness” I’m actively practicing my loving-kindness disciplines and I feel deeply connected to God, my Higher Power. I have much greater access to expressing loving kindness, both towards myself and to others. The important piece here is actively! The practice of loving-kindness does not occur spontaneously, oh how I wish it did! It takes practice and patience and more practice!
I also believe that to deeply develop loving-kindness for self and others it’s necessary, no it’s mandatory, that you be teachable. Being teachable means being willing to let go of the belief that because you’re a certain age, or because you have certain degrees, or you’ve reach a certain level of authority, or because of your privilege, or your experiences in the past, that you’ve learned all you need to know, that you’ve figured it all out. Guess what, I’m here to assure you that you haven’t even begun to figure it out. I also know that arriving at this type of awareness can feel absolutely terrifying! I believe it is terrifying because accepting that even with all your knowledge, and wisdom, power and influence, experience and privilege you are still nothing more than a collection of molecules, cells and particles. When we come to terms with just how insignificant we really are in the big scheme of things, we are now ready to begin to get in touch with our false self.
When one discovers the false self it is only natural to want to run away as fast as you can back to the safe protective force field of the ego. The ego will keep us “safe” from having to honestly look at ourselves and will also keep us from being teachable. It’s at this juncture and by accessing our courage and vulnerability that we are ready to begin to dismantle the architecture of our false self in order that we can create the space for our true self to come forth and begin to grow within us.
What many discover as they begin this work is that in exchange for surrendering our false self we are then given an amazing gift of our real authentic self, that is teachable, creative, adaptive and one that hungers for real authentic connection with others.
This is a journey that is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage and commitment, and it is a solitary journey that one that requires the support of others along the way.
I am a firm believer in the old adage“ When the student is ready the teacher will appear”. Having the desire to begin a practice of loving kindness is the first step. If you hold to this desire and are open to learning more and developing a practice of loving-kindness, your teachers will appear.