By Cawood Fitzhugh
“…the time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror… You will love again the stranger who was yourself.”
~Love After Love~ by Derek Walcott
As I read these words, I am struck at the lovingkindness message of this poem. It is a poem that we use often in our Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction classes as we begin together in the journey of self-care. In Saki Santorelli’s book, Heal Thyself, he writes, “within every healthcare practitioner lives the Wounded One; in every patient, every sick and suffering human being, abides a powerful Inner Healer. These are the gifts of being born into this world”. We all carry wounds, scars, misperceptions, and frequently we end up directing harsh judgments at ourselves and others. Yet we also carry within ourselves a powerful inner healer where lovingkindness dwells.
It is important to know what lovingkindness is. It is having immense positive regard for another being- a person or even a pet. It can be a physical sensation- usually felt around the heart- but it doesn’t always have to be. It is an expanding warmth that is opposite from the habitual contraction of beating ourselves up for not being good enough.
In the beginning, the lovingkindness meditation may feel challenging, even strange- almost like a Hallmark greeting card- “May you be happy”- with images of all those puppy videos made to make you feel good. Yet, when we practice lovingkindness as a formal meditation through the guided meditation that is offered in our classes, this repeating the phrases serves as an anchor of kindness towards ourselves and others.
This warm-hearted expression can feel very much like a greeting when we invite others we have positive regard for into our circle of awareness during the meditation. These warm feelings are not made up but actually already there. When we do the lovingkindness meditation, we are only supporting these feelings to ourselves and to others by using phrases we connect with such as “May you be safe and free from inner and outer harm.” These phrases support our desire for others to be safe as we want to be safe, keeping us in the present moment and allowing spaciousness and an opening of the heart.
Having curiosity about the phrases used and making them our own allows us to step out of any routine or habitual meditation into finding personal ones that open up the heart, helping to loosen the tight grip of self-judgement.
Mindfulness in many languages is translated as “heartfulness”. Mindful or heartful meditation is a way to change our relationship to ourselves and, in particular, to the story of who we think we are. When we hear the word “mindfulness,” if we’re not in some sense automatically hearing the word “heartfulness” we are misunderstanding it. And mindfulness in any event is not a concept; it’s a way of being- being awake and fully present in this moment. It’s in the noticing of what is in your field of awareness as it is happening. It means resting in a kind of awareness that is so stable you are not thrown off by unexpected events and situations. Instead of losing your balance when circumstances go awry, there is the opportunity to stay grounded by noticing.
Change and suffering are inevitable parts of life. It is important how we pay attention and greet our own selves, through this process, with lovingkindness.
Filed Under: Monthly Musings