Mindful

It’s easy to feel separate from other people and forms of life. When experiencing the world dualistically, there’s a pervasive sense of “us” and “them,” or “self” and “other.” But no matter our belief system, actions, or status, we are all joined together in this world through strands of relationship and interconnection.

By practicing loving-kindness meditation, you can learn to see the lives of others as related to your own. This doesn’t mean you must like everybody, or agree with everything they do. It means you can open up to the possibility of caring for others not just because you like them, admire them, or are indebted to them, but because your lives are inextricably linked.

Use this practice to recover your innermost knowledge of that linkage, dissolve barriers you have been upholding, and genuinely awaken to how connected we all are.

1. Begin with someone who has helped you; maybe they’ve been directly generous or kind, or have inspired you though you’ve never met them. When you think of them, they make you smile.
Bring an image of the person to mind, or feel their presence as if they’re right in front of you. Say their name to yourself, and silently offer these phrases to them, focusing on one phrase at a time.

  • May you live in safety.
  • May you have mental happiness (peace, joy).
  • May you have physical happiness (health, freedom from pain).
  • May you live with ease.

Don’t struggle to fabricate a feeling or sentiment. If your mind wanders, simply begin again.

2. After a few minutes, move on to a friend. Start with a friend who’s doing well right now, then switch to someone who is experiencing difficulty, loss, pain, or unhappiness.

3. Offer loving-kindness to a neutral person, who you don’t feel a strong liking or disliking for: a cashier at the supermarket, a bank teller, a dry cleaner. When you offer loving-kindness to a neutral person, you are offering it to them simply because they exist—you are not indebted to or challenged by them.

4. Offer loving-kindness toward a person with whom you have difficulty. Start with someone mildly difficult, and slowly work toward someone who has hurt you more grievously.

It’s common to feel resentment and anger, and it’s important not to judge yourself for that. Rather, recognize that anger burns within your heart and causes suffering, so out of the greatest respect and compassion for yourself, practice letting go and offering loving-kindness.

5. Finish by offering loving-kindness to anyone who comes to mind—people, animals, those whom you like, those whom you don’t, in an adventurous expanse of your own power of kindness.

This article appeared in the August 2015 issue of Mindful magazine.
Sharon Salzberg

Sharon Salzberg is a meditation teacher and New York Times best-selling author. She is the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and has played a crucial role in bringing Asian meditation practices to the West. Sharon has been a student of meditation since 1971, guiding retreats worldwide since 1974. She is a weekly columnist for On Being, a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and the author of many books including Real Happiness, and Lovingkindness.

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