Family, Marriage, Meditation, Parenting, Special Needs, Yoga

Love is not a limited resource…..

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

Family, Meditation

Why my next meditation retreat will be at Disney World….

ImageLast year around this time we went on a family vacation to Walt Disney World. My husband and I made a decision before we went that we would embrace the experience completely. That we would not allow knee jerk cynicism or sarcasm to be our fall back position which it very often can be. That doesn’t mean that we walked around wearing mouse ears, nor could we bring ourselves to eat those giant turkey legs that seemed to be readily available at all times of day. However, on that first evening when the sun started to set and the sky turned a specific shade of orange that triggered the castle in the magic kingdom to be lit up in the perfect complementary shade of lavender, I allowed my heart to swell. I did not entertain the little voice in my head that was insisting that I was a sucker for being manipulated. It felt awesome to believe, and it is outrageously beautiful when the sky is orange and the castle is purple and your family is happy.

There were many rides that the boys wanted to go on that Mae was too small for, and given that riding in the back seat of a car makes me sick I was happy to pass on the roller coasters. So, for some portion of every day, Mae and I would find a shady spot and watch the people go by. The thing about Disney that no one tells you is, it is the best place to practice Loving Kindness meditation. Everyone comes to Disney to have fun, to be the best version of themselves, to revel in a curated experience of togetherness, and most importantly everyone is working to stay present. There is every kind of variety in the crowds, every color, every age and size, there is an enormous tolerance for special needs of any kind. The tickets to the parks are expensive but there is every variety of residence option, and food plan, and day rate or special. Disney is inclusive, and consuming, it is almost impossible for your mind to wander from the experience because you are making every effort to stay present.

When I was a kid I used to play a game in my head, I would look at strangers and try and imagine I loved them as much as I loved my mom and dad. I would really focus on their faces, or hands, and wait until I felt that feeling in my chest that I associated with love; and I would aim it at them, imagining I loved them as much as I loved the people who defined my whole universe. The first time I heard about Loving Kindness meditation, I recognized it as a formal version of this childhood game. Disney, is the perfect place to practice this. It is a world of strangers, but they are all walking around with their hearts open. Every day as the boys sped up and down man made mountains, I would watch the people go by and try and imagine that I loved them. That I felt the same generosity of spirit towards the English couple with the matching face tattoos, as I did to the family with the adopted Ethiopian twins, and the man with the oxygen tank on the motorized cart, and the legions of families in between. I would watch them being their best most awake selves, and my heart would fill with incredible love and affection for what we can be.

I have been on several meditation retreats in the last few years. They have all been at beautiful, peaceful centers in the woods. The food has been amazing in its simplicity, and the staff has been young, eager and pierced. I have loved these experiences. However, it was that trip to Disney that reminded me what it really means to be open and connected. To watch perfect strangers go by and to connect with their experience and know that it was mine as well, was incredibly powerful. I still play the game in my head, looking at someone until I can feel myself love them. When I was a kid as soon as I felt that intense love, I would look down or look away, overwhelmed by it. Now, I am hoping people feel it. The world would be a very different place if we approached each other with our Disney face on, wanting to be present, connected and loved.

Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg is an amazing resource to learn more about the formal practice of a loving kindness meditation. It is one of my favorites.