With my serenity, sense of well-being, and actual well-being assaulted on many fronts lately, I’ve been feeling desperate to make things better. At the same time, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the size and number of crises in our world right now. Maybe you can relate?
Where to start?
I remembered a long-time piece of wisdom about not being able to help others if you’re not in good shape yourself. I call it the Delta rule: When the cabin suddenly loses pressure, put your own mask on first before helping the person next to you.
For me, what provides the helping-others oxygen are loving-kindness and compassion meditations. They are the main focus of my practice now.
When I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed, I start with Loving-Kindness. I find this practice not too emotionally demanding, and therefore easy to do when emotional times are tough. And it does reliably lessen the fears that are constraining my heart and depleting my oxygen.
In it, we focus our awareness on a person, and repeat phrases of well-wishing, such as:
May (I/he/she/they) be happy.
May ____ be safe and secure.
May ____ be healthy and well.
May ____ live with peace and ease.
Find guided Loving-Kindness meditations on our RESOURCES page. Just type Loving-Kindness into the search bar.
There are several variations on this practice, and here are a couple:
MBSR Standard: In this one, we start with offering loving-kindness to ourselves, then to a loved one, then to an acquaintance, then (if it feels right) to someone we have difficulty with. Sometimes this practice ends with expanding our well-wishes to the larger world.
Loving-Kindness for you and a loved one: We begin by focusing on a loved one, then send well wishes to both of us together, and then focus on ourselves. Or vice-versa.
Loving- Kindness with your own phrases: Same as the above but personalizing your wishes using your own phrases instead of the standard ones. A description of this plus a video of Tim Burnett leading a guided contemplation for finding your own phrases – it’s very helpful and poignant – can be found on our RESOURCES page. Type “finding” into the search bar.
The root of the word compassion is to suffer together. It means feeling another’s pain and having a genuine desire to help alleviate that pain. Cultivating compassion is said by the Dalai Lama (and the Buddha and many others) to be the necessary basis for reducing the suffering of the world. My strategy is: when my Loving-Kindness practice has opened and stabilized my heart, I move into these practices.
Here are the ones I use. You can find them our RESOURCES page. Just search for any word in the title, or check the MSC category to find these practices.
Giving and receiving compassion: This practice helps cultivate the belief that (a) I can receive what I need to relieve my own pain and suffering from the world, and (b) I can, in turn, provide that relief to others.
The self-compassion break: This is a short (and very portable) practice created by Kristen Neff to provide us with a tool to give ourselves compassion at the exact moment we are suffering.
Compassionate_____: You can also bring the mindset of compassion into any mindfulness practice.
A considerable amount of research has shown that meditation in the loving-kindness tradition yields benefits quite quickly compared to other forms of mindfulness meditation. Helping others from a place of true compassion seems to be self-sustaining – compassion comes with its own energy store for action.
So where to start? For me, it’s to open my heart with loving-kindness and cultivating compassion so that when I do take action, it will be out of empathy and love.