I've often referred to the practice of "Metta"—loving-kindness practice—as an "inter-spiritual practice," even though it appears to be Buddhist in origin. There are variations of it in other cultures, specifically within the Celtic Christian tradition and Judaism.
I've also often wondered if we can share this practice with others (or by formal teaching) without mentioning where the practice came from. Does it still honor and serve the practice well if it's roots are not recognized?
Mindfulness teacher and educator, Saki Santorelli, has shed new light on this for me. In his book, Health Thy Self: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine, he deftly introduces the practice with absolutely no reference to Buddhism. Nor does he name it as "loving-kindness" practice. For him, Metta is simply a human practice—a way to befriend ourselves, sourced in mindfulness practice.
"Dwelling in the awareness of the breath, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go, experiment with the the possibility of embracing yourself as you would embrace another person dear to you and needing to be held. If you like, try silently repeating a phrase on your own behalf. You might offer yourself one or more of the following:
That's it. That's all he wrote.
At first, I struggled with this. I asked myself, 'Shouldn't he say more, provide details, including the origin of the practice? Shouldn't he call it something specific?'
And then, with mindful attention (and non-judgmental awareness), I saw how I was becoming trapped in my own way of seeing, and, yes, transmitting/teaching the practice, and how I might resist doing it a different way.
Was my way a better way? No. Was my way the most effective way? Of course not.
In that moment, I befriended myself and my own tendency to think that things should be done a certain way, one that was more comfortable to me. We all struggle with the unfamiliar, don't we? Usually we don't like what's uncharacteristic or different at all. This is one of our human frailties.
Thankfully, I recognized this and, in that moment, was able to let go of my resistance. I allowed myself to receive Dr. Santorelli's method as a listener, purely as a participant, and as I did so, I felt relief. Pure relief.
In the next moment, I felt compassion for myself because I was able to see (yet again), how I can so easily get caught up in a "should" and the tension that comes with that. In this case, how something I deem important should be taught.
How I love this practice! How I love that mindfulness does bring respite from the struggle when I allow it to flood my awareness.
How I love that a simple, self-compassionate phrase like, "May I be gentle with myself when I trip over a should," can keep self-judgment at bay and growth at the door.
Today, may we all be gentle with ourselves—no matter what arises, no matter what we discover about ourselves.
To learn more about Metta Meditation and how to do it, visit this page.
Guided Meditations provided. Enjoy!
When I want to better understand how men think there are two men I go to for counsel—my husband, Brad, and my dear, online friend, Jay Schryer.
Both are "enlightened men", having done a good amount of inner work to earn the title of "wise guy" (in the very best sense of the word, LOL)
A while back I was wondering if "self-compassion" was a term to which most guys could relate. I decided to query Jay on this one. He agreed to let me share his e-mail response to me.
I like it, I really like it! It makes perfect sense to me. What do you all think?
Thank you, Jay, for sharing your insights with us!
Jay Schryer is a science-fiction and fantasy author who blends spiritual, mythological, and psychological concepts with magic and supernatural phenomena. The result is stories that are both unique and universal at the same time. He explores what it means to be human: what drives us, what motivates us, what scares us, and what inspires us.
At least, that's what he hopes people will say about him after he becomes a famous author. For now, he's just happy when he finishes a story, and it doesn't totally suck. To read his fiction, go to http://exterminis.com.
As I continue to gather up and create material for my forthcoming book, Living Gently with Myself (the next book in the "30-Day Guided Journey" series), I periodically go back into my files to refresh my memory about self-compassion.
Reading someone else's thoughts often puts me back in touch with my own wisdom. I bet this is true for you too.
Today, as I looked into the SC file, I found this offering from Buddhist nun and teacher, Pema Chodron. I loved it the first time I read, even more so today. I'll explain why.
"We feel that compassion is reserved for someone else, and it never occurs to us to feel it for ourselves. My experience is that by practicing without “shoulds,” we gradually discover our wakefulness and our confidence. Gradually, without any agenda except to be honest and kind, we assume responsibility for being here in this unpredictable world, in this unique moment, in this precious human body."
It struck me that each line in this passage is a complete teaching in and of itself. It's so rich and full of wisdom it would take a lifetime to decipher and to apply to our walk through life.
Turning her phrases toward myself, I heard:
1. I often feel it is much more important to hold compassion for others. I am prone to put myself last on the list of those who deserve and need compassion.
2. If I let go of the "shoulds", I would be much more awake and aware. Regularly! I would also be more confident about my walk through life as my true self, not who others think I should be.
3. When I am honest and kind with myself, life gets much easier. (Big sigh of relief...)
4. When I take responsibility for my whole self (thoughts, words, choices), I AM more empowered to live in the world.
5. Embracing all of these, I can take a deep breath to enjoy and appreciate my life just as it is. Wondrous, amazing, a blessing—even when it's difficult!
6. When I can do this, life feels very different, and I am in touch with the miracle of my birth, my life, and life in general.
What do you think? When you read Pema Chodron's thoughts above, how do they affect you? What do they invite you to?
Greater wakefulness? More self-compassion? I hope so!
Thanks, Ani Pema for these reminders. I bow to you and your wisdom, as always.
It's not a sign of weakness to need reminding. We all get off the path.
Life presents us with unexpected challenges day in and day out.
Just when we thought things were going well, bump ...
Just when we thought we had everything figured out, bump ...
Just when we looked forward to a period of smooth sailing, bump ...
This is life in all its messiness. As the Buddha taught, pain and gain, joy and sorrow, each comes and goes. And each visits us again when we least it expect it.
This is the bump in the road where self-compassion becomes invaluable. With good self-awareness we acknowledge the bump. We admit we don't like it. We confess we might even feel angry about its appearance: "Really? This again?" "This is just so inconvenient!" "I didn't see this one coming."
It's alright. It's good and wise to recognize our struggle with what life offers. We are human. And because we are, we will experience the "full catastrophe, as Jon Kabat-Zinn teaches. But because we are conscious beings as well, with great wisdom in the storehouse of our hearts, we know we can squarely face what is here, and deal with it one more time.
All the better if we do so with self-compassion. What we are experiencing is difficult.
• Say it: "This is difficult." And mean it. Receive your own acknowledgement of suffering.
• Be aware of and name your feelings: Frustration. Disappointment. Sadness.
• Take a breath. Take 3. And allow yourself to be held by those kind breaths.
Let these three steps bring you momentary relief so you have space, even for a few moments, to lay down your burden and remember that you've done this before and you can do it again.
When life presents bumps—better yet, potholes?—we can hold ourselves tenderly and be generous to ourselves. We can be our own gentle friend who offers a comforting hug to say, "I know, this is hard."
Just sit, receive, remember.
Julia Cameron writes:
"I am patient. I am able to live with ambiguity. I am able to allow situations to evolve and alter. I am able to await outcomes. I tolerate quiet periods of non-knowing while solutions emerge and present themselves. I do not force solutions. I expect the successful working out-of life difficulties and differences. My heart is wise. It knows when to acts and when non-action is the action to take. I trust my patient heart. I trust the power of containment."*
Thank you, Julia, for this reminder. I needed it today. Perhaps, dear reader, you did too.
May we all be compassionate toward ourselves in moments of difficulty. May we be kind.
* From "My Soul Has Patience and Containment" from Heart Steps: Prayers and Declarations for a Creative Life by Julia Cameron (Tarcher/Putnman, 1997)
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