One of my earliest memories is of standing in the grocery store with my mother and looking at a total stranger, keeping my eyes on them until I felt like I loved them as much as my parents. I remember playing this game in stores, restaurants, and on the highway, staring at strangers until I felt the sensations that I associated with love. A feeling of warmth in my chest, a kind of tingling in my arms and hands, a sense of connection even though the person wasn’t someone I knew at all. I guess from a very early age I was interested in how my mind could influence or create sensation in my body.
What I didn’t realize was that I was practicing my own form of a Loving Kindness meditation. Love is a virtually unlimited resource, it is what gets us up in the morning; it is what sustains us through our darkest hours and lifts us to our greatest joys. In my own life I define love as a sense of connection and a generosity of spirit that makes me feel safe and expansive at the same time. Sometimes when life is busy, or we are feeling run down, that sense of connection to others can feel out of reach. Practicing a Loving Kindness meditation for just a few minutes a day can shift our whole sense of what interdependence feels like. The formal practice of this meditation requires you to find a quiet place, and sit with eyes open or closed. Start by visualizing someone who you love unconditionally. Focus on the image of that person in your mind’s eye until you can feel the sensation in the body that you associate with love. Often you will find that you are smiling. You will send that person the message:
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be safe
May you be at ease
Repeat these phrases in your head a few times as you hold that image of your beloved person in your mind. Then the practice dictates replacing the image of that person with an image of yourself and sending yourself these very same messages. From yourself you move to an acquaintance and eventually to someone with whom you have conflict. Each time you repeat the same phrases, sending these messages of love and generosity out into the world. The very last part of the practice is sending these messages universally in the hopes that they reach all who need them.
The formal practice of Loving Kindness meditation is intensely powerful, and I encourage everyone to explore it. Recently, I have found myself returning to my own made-up version of it from childhood. Practicing not in a quiet room away from the world but instead in the hardware store, or the library, focusing my attention on someone (usually their back, so it isn’t weird) until I can feel a sense of loving them. There is something about this practice that makes me happy, that makes me feel like I have tapped into an amazing source of good feeling that exists all the time. Whether it is practiced formally or informally, working to spread love and kindness in today’s busy, intensely complicated world seems like an awfully good use of one’s time