I'm surprised at how often I remember the character, "Roseanna Danna", played by Gilda Radner on the TV show Saturday Night Live? Her wise-mouthed mantra was, “It’s always something!” It's true! It IS always something, something that will yank us out of any sweet spot of serenity we’ve found. Such is the nature of life as a human being.
The "something" that upsets our equanimity can be big or small, seemingly trivial or completely life-altering. As I read through headline news these days, it feels as if there are more somethings than ever before. At least that's what my anxiety prone mind tells me. In truth, life has always been difficult for humans for as long as we've inhabited the earth. Violence is ever-present and the suffering it creates as well. Sickness, old age, and death are but a blink away.
With all these somethings going on, how can we stay in touch with a more balanced state of mind, our wise and hopeful heart? For me, it always comes back to re-connecting with my breath. This breath is not just any breath but, to me, a sacred breath. Breathing in, breathing out, with "restful purposefulness" welcomes me Home.
These days, I am engaging with my breath in this welcoming way as if each breath I take actually whispers "Welcome back" into the ear of my heart. The tone of this wise voice is sweet, full of loving-kindness, ever so gentle. It comes from a part of my own self that recognizes how other parts of me have wandered too far afield and how they long for a loving embrace.
Breathing in, "Welcome back. I am glad you're here."
Breathing out, "Rest in this moment."
Breathing in, "Welcome back. You are home."
Breathing out, "Let go and simply be here now."
What words of welcome might your inner wisdom whisper into the ear of your heart?
Sometime, if you’re fortunate, you’ll come across a string of well-intentioned words that not only turn your head, but have the power to turn your life around. In 2007, I ran into one such strand.
I was reading, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Path of Happiness, by meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg. I was keen on learning more about a blessing practice called metta, a Pali word, for “unconditional friendliness.” It is sourced in Buddhist tradition, yet versions of it are found in many spiritual traditions, including Judaism and Celtic Christianity. It is an inter-spiritual practice that supports all theologies. One of the chapters opened with a portion of a poem by Galway Kinnell:
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing.
As I read it, a chord of recognition quivered in my throat. I was much in need of self-blessing! You see, as a born nurturer, someone prone to give and give, I rarely took time to turn goodwill toward myself. As a result, I often felt parched and depleted, my own fault, of course. Reading about the notion of self-blessing was like finding a cool pool from which to drink in the middle of a desert. I knew immediately I must dedicate myself to the practice of metta. It would be healing. I would flower. I also knew that the love I so desperately needed to show myself would flow out to others when my own well was suitably replenished. There was no sense of selfishness, only self-awareness that would allow me to be more present to others by being present to myself.
In time, self-blessing became my oasis. Placing my hand upon my heart, I breathed slowly and rhythmically, pacing my breath with the phrases of metta, offering them to myself first:
May I be safe.
May I be strong.
May I be happy.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
The phrases served me well over the next few months. I repeated them several times a day at pivotal moments. They were quite the prescription: calming my too-busy mind and reducing heart-racing anxiety. Repeating the phrases also softened my emotions, expanded my feelings toward myself, and gave me permission to be with myself in a kind, nonjudgmental way. This is one of the miracles of metta: as we say the phrases to ourselves, we get to notice all of our stories and excuses, the way we fool ourselves, shedding light on our wounds, and, ultimately, engaging in self-forgiveness and healing.
This generous act of blessing organically opened the doors of my heart toward others too. I began to feel softer towards them, more understanding, patient and kind. I could more clearly see how we all struggle with a Pandora’s box of inner ailments and outward challenges. Self-compassion and compassion grew in me like a well-tended flower.
When we adopt the whole of this contemplative practice, extending the phrases of goodwill to five categories of others (benefactors, loved ones, strangers, difficult people, all beings and creatures), goodwill begins to flow like a river. With ongoing metta practice, our judgments and expectations of others are illuminated. Metta is a powerful tool for undoing anything that has limited our ability to love.
In the end, when we offer the phrases of blessing to sentient beings everywhere, we realize that we are all connected in a great web of being-ness. We are all trying to be happy. We are all trying to find our way "home." We are more alike than dissimilar. We are actually one body.
What Galway Kinnell wrote was true: “everything flowers from within, of self-blessing.” Indeed, a universal garden of compassionate humans can bloom, one tender bud at a time. Blessing ourselves and others is a supremely kind (and healing) thing to do.
A Self-Blessing Practice:
Place your hand on your heart. See if you can receive your own goodwill right now. How does this feel? Are you experiencing any resistance blessing yourself in this way? Do thoughts of selfishness arise? Rest assured that blessing yourself is not an act of self- absorption, but a way to calm and soothe your overworked mind and heart.
©2018, Janice L. Lundy
Excerpted from Living Gently with Myself: A 30-Day Guidebook by Janice L. Lundy. Heart to Heart Press, 2018.
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Dr. Janice Lynne Lundy (PsyD, DMin, MPC)
is The Gerald May Professor of Spiritual Direction & Counseling at the Graduate Theological Foundation. She is an interspiritual director/mentor, educator and counselor who has been pointing people back toward the Sacred for nearly thirty years.