When life seems to continuously illuminate the suffering and injustices in humanity and one can only bear witness, it’s time to say a little prayer.
When people distrust science and neglect public health prescriptions, it’s hard to know what might evolve humanity toward greater goodwill toward one another and the sacred ground upon which we tread.
When history seems to repeat itself, valuing power over rather than empowerment, well, just maybe, a little love and kindness could nudge our nervous systems to favor a caring response rather than a callous one. And we need to look within to a still quiet place to find it.
Try a loving-kindness meditation
It’s fascinating that the intervention research on an ancient Eastern tradition known as mettā or loving-kindness meditation (LKM), indicates beneficial outcomes on mental and physical health. Mettā, a Pali word, refers to an unconditional friendliness or good heartedness. The traditional practice is simply a well wishing in ever widening circles of care using a series of phrases. Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg greatly influenced the introduction of this practice to the West, with her book Loving Kindness and many teachings since. An LKM typically begins with a blessing toward someone you cherish who evokes feelings of warmth and tenderness, a smile. Then you extend the blessing toward loved ones; toward a neutral person or stranger; toward a person you may have difficulty with; and finally, extending goodwill toward all beings.
May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you live with ease and kindness.
In some way it reminds me of the 1970s Catholic church tunes. I remember singing along with the folk music ministry groups, looking up to these young people who looked like Sonny and Cher, cloaked in bell bottoms and tasseled vests. Songs like Be Not Afraid and Blest Are They still evoke an upswell of compassion in me. Decades later I’m comforted by the wisdom singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier with her panoramic song Mercy Now, with stanzas that stretch compassion from the deeply painful and personal to the social and political. We could all use a little mercy now, indeed.
There’s something to this zooming in and zooming out that is nourishment for the soul. A loving-kindness practice is a tonic of tenderness. But instead of feeling pain, the practice evokes a kind of benevolent expansiveness that transcends the Me and embraces the We. It’s a heart opener.
LKM is a good prescription
Delightfully, science is proving out ancient wisdom that such healing words do in fact heal. Even one-week of an LKM practice can have positive benefits on wellbeing, including neural activation in the brain associated with emotion regulation, affiliation, and social awareness. Importantly, a LKM can offset the inner critical voice or negative social comparison that is the root of so much personal suffering. This blessing promotes an upswell in positive emotions, which builds resilience and empathy, and broadens your perspective. In a mindful self-compassion therapy approach, tucking yourself in the LKM sequence is essential. The psychologist and teacher Jack Kornfield has said, “If compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
Befriending oneself can be hard to do in part because we get in our own way. So practicing an LKM toward yourself may feel awkward or scripted at first. As with any prayer or affirmation you can craft your very own LKM and make it authentic and true to your experience—and at the very least allow the practice to be aspirational.
Create your own LKM
In one of the most challenging years for me personally, I’ve had to call on compassion practices to keep me sane. The last 12 months have been fraught with more disruptions than I can count, including the pain of loved ones’ suffering: addiction, injury, illness, death; moving out of the home in which we raised our children; as well as missed milestones like graduation and coming of age celebrations. It’s a wonder to behold that spring has arrived again.
The only sustaining practice for me has been that each morning I say a little prayer. Sometimes it is simply a thank you. Other days I recite a personal LKM aloud just to hear my own declaration to the universe. This helps me to get out of the echo chamber of my brain. When 2021 arrived I felt the urge to create a new prayer that I might grow into.
May love lead.
May I trust my intuition
and say no to Fear and yes to Spirit.
May I find serenity in discerning what
I can and cannot change,
knowing that life serves up lessons
to grow my soul.
May I have the fortitude,
both the vitality and courage,
to be a benevolent servant
of wisdom and compassion.
May I be clear, consistent, and kind
in living my true purpose.
May I allow joy to flourish
each and every day.
May I be a spark of the Universe, Divine Source,
and shine a bright light among humanity.
May I find harmony
in the constant flow of life.
May you be a spark of the universe and shine a bright light among humanity. I invite you to create your own loving-kindness blessing. Be kind, be clear, be true to your experience.
More on the science: https://www.healthline.com/health/metta-meditation#what-to-know