“Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things.”(Thomas Merton)
The wonderful thing about Buddhist and Hindu meditation is that they are accessible to everyone, no matter what religious background you may be from. Growing up, I attended Catholic school for ten years and completed all the sacraments under the Catholic Church. I was always interested in spirituality and the deeper meaning of things, but was eventually turned away from the strict discipline and uncompromising beliefs of the church. When I started college, I was introduced to Buddhist and Hindu studies through courses taught by a brilliant and insightful professor, Douglas Brooks. I am inspired by how important wisdom, self reflection and mindfulness is in both traditions. In no way are you meant to believe or follow blindly. You are expected to question and doubt what you are learning as a means of understanding yourself (and ultimately the universe) on a more meaningful level.
In doing this meditation challenge it is important to
a.) set aside time daily to do the assigned meditation
b.) write, at some point, about your experience throughout the week
c.) don’t give in to your impatient nature. It will take awhile to finally get comfortable sitting and just being alone with yourself.
On Monday, April 8th we will start with our first meditation technique: metta bhavana. My goal is to find 20 minutes a day to sit comfortably with my eyes closed for meditation. Turn your phone on silent, unplug and commit to the practice. I plan on waking up thirty minutes early each day, sitting in meditation and then writing for ten minutes. Decide what is best for your own personal schedule and remain as consistent as possible.
Our first technique focuses on having compassion and cultivating loving kindness for ourselves as well as those we know and don’t know. Metta means loving-kindness and bhavana means to cultivate or develop the mind. Patanjali writes in his Yoga Sutras: “In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion towards those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.” In addition to finding compassion for others, the first and most important stage is self-compassion. We will cultivate patience and understanding towards ourselves and hopefully, through consistent practice, will see changes in the way we choose to think, feel and respond throughout the day.
When preparing for meditation, find a comfortable seat by propping your sitbone up on a cushion, pillows, or block. If possible, cross your legs in Indian stye and let your knees fall towards the floor. If this is uncomfortable you may offer your knees and hips some support by stacking pillows or blocks up and letting your knees rest gently on them. You can also kneel down with your knees together and sit back on your heels as another option for sitting. Try to pick a posture and stay in it throughout the whole meditation. Keep your spine straight and do what you can not to slouch in your seat. Remember, this is going to be rather uncomfortable at first until you get used to the sitting posture, so use as many props as you need to set yourself up with a straight spine and comfortable knees, hips and ankles. Rest your hands in your lap or one on each knee, palms up as a symbol of both offering and reception. If you do not have the capacity to sit with props in a quiet place, you can easily do this meditation on a bus ride, in the park, or in any other public place that enables you to sit and close your eyes.
With your eyes closed, follow the below stages in order. Try to spend a couple minutes in each stage, sending out positive affirmations. Remember to practice ongoing compassion and respond to any negative thought that comes up with love and kindness.
- Cultivate metta toward yourself: “may i be well” “may i be happy” “I am enough”
- Cultivate metta towards a good friend or family member you care for. Think about them and meditate on wishing them well.
- Cultivate metta towards a neutral person. This person is neither a friend or a person we have conflict with. We simply feel neutral towards them.
- Cultivate metta towards a difficult person. Think of someone you typically feel negative feelings about. Notice what feelings arise when they enter your mind and in what way you continue your negative thinking. Focus on letting go of these feelings and wishing them well.
- Cultivate metta toward all sentient beings – cultivate universal loving-kindness. Think of the struggles other cultures deal with on a day to day basis. Send them your hopes and wishes. Continue to generate feelings of compassion towards people and animals near and far.
Sharon Salzerg writes about compassion in her book Loving Kindness: “It is the strength that arises out of seeing the true nature of suffering in the world. Compassion allows us to bear witness to that suffering, whether it is in ourselves or others, without fear; it allows us to name injustice without hesitation, and to act strongly, with all the skill at our disposal. To develop this mind state of compassion…is to learn to live, as the Buddha put it, with sympathy for all living beings, without exception. Loving-kindness and compassion are the basis for wise, powerful, sometimes gentle, and sometimes fierce actions that can really make a difference — in our own lives and those of others.” Many people may find this type of meditation silly. But think about it. You spend 10,15, 20 minutes a day focusing only on cultivating compassion, love and kindness and your mind will start to shift. You will start to see significant changes and will find yourself more empathetic, more patient, kinder, more and essentially, more aware. What do you think, shall we give it a try?! Let’s do it.