In Practicing Presence, I lead with the following:
It was March. Outside, I was greeted by dreary, gray skies and a constant drizzle. It was the kind of rain that makes you feel chilled to the bone. Inside, I felt equally dreary.
I’ve gotten more accepting of March since I wrote that. I’ve accepted that the last bit of winter where I live can be challenging. Reminding myself that this too shall pass isn’t exactly being present so I’m attempting a reframe by accepting that March is meant to be dreary. Without the muck and mud of march there would be no green shoots of April which lead to the florals of May. Do I still get “taken down” by March? A little. But I have more tools to access so that I don’t let my mind go south for too long. I didn’t use to spend time on making sure my mind was healthy. Ironic when you consider that most of us spend go to doctors and dentists to keep our body and teeth healthy. We try to eat right and exercise to keep our bodies strong, but how much time do we spend on keeping our brains are healthy?
This week was Brain Awareness Week, a global campaign to enhance public awareness of brain research. To dive deeper into the exact science of meditation and to fully understand its exact effects on our brains click here to read a comprehensive report called “The Science of Meditation”. Meditation is on my list of tools for brain health. However, meditation and mindfulness have become the panacea for every ailment from alleviating depression and anxiety to improved memory and sleep.
If you want to read even more hard science an excellent book is Altered Traits. In this book Daniel Goleman and Richie Davidson share cutting- edge research that reveals the power of meditation and the smartest way to practice for the maximum benefit. They reveal groundbreaking science showing how mindfulness and compassion practices can help each of us individually and thus the entire planet. They advocate that the rule of thumb- that what gets practiced gets improved- underscores the importance of matching a given mental strategy in meditation to its result. Loving Kindness Practice, where you wish yourself and others well is correlated to creating a more positive mood. Sounds like a perfect practice for March. It has always been one of my favorite practices, and one that I teach pre-service and in-service teachers with the hope they will in turn teach their students. It’s the practice of cultivating compassion for yourself and others.Imagine a world where young children began each day by wishing themselves well, and extending those same good wishes to their friends and those that they were having a difficult time with, and ultimately the entire world. I can’t think of a more valuable lesson for children to practice. Teaching children to have compassion for others would most likely result in more compassionate, empathetic adults.
Loving-kindness, or metta, as it is called in the Pali language, is a mantra of unconditional, inclusive kindness with no conditions; it does not depend on whether one “deserves” it or not; it is not restricted to friends and family; it extends out from personal categories to include all living beings. In our very divided world, cultivating care and compassion for those that may think differently or have different beliefs is so needed.
You begin with phrases that express what you wish most deeply for yourself, not just for today, but also in an enduring way. Phrases that are big enough and general enough that you can ultimately wish them for all of life, for all beings everywhere.
“May I Live in safety. May I be happy, May I be healthy. May I live with ease. ”
Now call to mind someone that you care deeply about–, someone who’s helped you in your life, someone who inspires you, someone you love. This could be a friend, a spouse, a child. You can visualize them, say their name to yourself. Get a feeling for their presence, and then direct the phrases of loving kindness to them. “May you live in safety, may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you live with ease. ”
Now call to mind someone you know who’s having a difficult time right now. They may have experienced a loss, or are in pain. Imagine them sitting in front of you. Say their name. Get a feeling for their presence and offer the phrases of loving-kindness to them.
“May you live in safety. May you be happy. May you be healthy, may you live with ease.”
Next, think of someone who plays some role in your life, some function that you don’t know very well, that you don’t have a particular feeling for, or against, someone that you see periodically. If someone like that comes to mind, imagine them sitting in front of you, and offer these same phrases of loving kindness to them.“May you live in safety. May you be happy. May you be healthy, may you live with ease. ”
Now call to mind someone you are having a difficult time with or a negative emotion towards. Someone you have a hard time getting along with. Picture this person sitting across from you. Repeat the phrases for this person. “May you live in safety. May you be happy. May you be healthy, may you live with ease. ”
When we connect into these phrases, aiming the heart in this way, we’re opening ourselves to the possibility of including, rather than excluding, of connecting, rather than overlooking, of caring, rather than being indifferent. And ultimately, we open in this way to all beings everywhere, without distinction, without separation.
“May all beings live in safety, be happy, be healthy, live with ease. All people, all animals, all creatures, all those in existence, near and far, known to us and unknown to us. All beings on the earth, in the air, in the water. Those being born, those dying. May all beings everywhere live in safety, be happy, be healthy, live with ease.”
Feel the energy of this intention extending infinitely in front of you, to either side, behind you, above and below. As the heart extends in a boundless way, leaving no one out; May all beings live in safety, be happy, be healthy, live with ease. ”