It’s the season for giving and receiving. It’s also traditionally a time for families, coming together to celebrate and hopefully relax. We all know however that amidst the joys and making merry the pressure can build as we spend time in those close relationships with so much history. We bring along our expectations, others bring along theirs. Not everyone’s needs can be met! How to manage it all? How about with love. Kindness. Warm-heartedness. The kind of love that leaves no one out – especially yourself!
Growing love is infinitely generous to ourselves as well, because a heart that’s open is a more comfortable heart to live with right? Practice – both in formal meditation or informally in our day to day living – is an opportunity to connect with, to find our home in, our innate capacity for love, peace and clarity. We learn to sustain the intention of befriending and allow it to plant it’s roots in our hearts. The seed of love or care is friendliness to this moment just as it is and as we are. It doesn’t mean at all that everything is ok and doesn’t need to be changed, but coming at ourselves and our life situations with friendliness makes change so much more possible. This friendliness to experience is the heart of mindfulness-based stress reduction.
With a more explicit focus on friendliness towards ‘the experiencer’ in the Mindful Self-Compassion programme, we are invited to gently uncover ways to shift the inner voice or tone to one of kindness. We begin to listen deeply to what we really need to hear, and ways to respond to ourselves. What all of us need to hear as Daniel Ladinksy says in the poem below, is that we are loved.
(With That Moon Language by Daniel Ladinsky, inspired by Hafiz)
The Dalai Lama says “my religion is kindness.” John Lennon sang “love is the answer”. If love is the answer, what’s the question? Isn’t it what frees us to be all that we wish to be? What guides us, our northern star, our intention. What really matters.
Everything grows from the seed of intention. The reason we do something affects what we do and how we do it, and the consequences that arise from it. What we sow, so we reap. We are always sowing and growing something, a mood, a mind-heart state, a possibility. What would you like to grow while you’re here on planet earth, in order for you and yours to thrive rather than just survive? What would you like to grow this Christmas? When we meditate, we are intentionally sowing and growing rather than automatically habitually planting the same old seeds. So it’s a marvellous opportunity and support for living your life in the way you wish to, connected with and expressing what really matters to you.
This autumn I’ve been immersed in mindful self-compassion teaching, learning and practising. What a blessing. The depth of healing when we practice befriending ourselves in this particular way continues to amaze me. It’s been the perfect time to read the wonderful Christina Feldman’s Boundless Heart, which explores each of the qualities of kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity known as the 4 ‘immeasurables’, sublime states or ‘divine abodes’ in Buddhist teachings. These are the particular relational capacities of the heart that we can cultivate. Contrary to how they sound these are not lofty mind states but rather the potential for every ordinary human mind-heart to make their home.
Wisdom and experience points to the ease and wellbeing that cultivating these qualities brings. But much more than wellbeing these qualities are both the path and the fruit of the awakened life, or mindful life as we might arguably short hand it in secular contexts. These qualities express the essence of a liberated heart. A heart freed from the pettiness of greed, hatred and ignorance that is the fundamental cause of our suffering.
Essentially mindfulness is about love and loving life. It holds our hand as we make what Christina Feldman describes as the biggest shift we can make, from living in aversion and fear to ‘metta’ – the ancient Pali word which is mostly translated as loving-kindness, friendliness or goodwill. We have so many opportunities to practice this increasing warm heartedness, in the many small moments of pushing some experience away (too hot, too cold, too tired, too agitated…), and in the process building our capacities for those big moments in relationships when we feel our hearts contracting.
If it resonates for you that love is the answer next time you don’t know how to respond you might ask yourself ‘what would love say?’. In the midst of strong emotions or their aftermath, in the throng of a busy high-street or transport, or anytime you notice your Christmas goodwill fading, experiment with gently repeating these or similar loving-kindness phrases…
And then sending these same well wishes to anyone nearby, seen or unseen. See what happens when you grow a little more love, a little more warm-understanding, because that’s what we all really need. And if you’d like to take a caring pause, listen to a 9 min guided meditation here