Just what the heck is ‘Loving Kindness’? Well, it could be just the ticket to lifting your spirits right now.
I don’t know about you, but my brain capacity at the moment feels pretty damn small – and when that happens, my heart capacity can feel even smaller. When I am in a good place, it’s easy for me to be my best self – nice and smiley and kind. A goofy Labrador who’s just so happy to see you. When I am in The Bad Place, then my knee-jerk reaction is like that of a hissing snake – mean and bitey. A lot of the pandemic years was The Bad Place, and 2023 has not got off to a good start, which means I have to work that much harder to be the Labrador, not the Snake.
A good way to do that is by practising Loving Kindness.
This is a Buddhist philosophy that I have read about over the years in a variety of places, used by yoga teachers and entrepreneurs alike. It is easy and it is fast and it fills you with a warm glow and it’s free!
Like all good philosophies, it’s been around a very long time. The Sanskrit word for this practise is Maitrī, in pali it’s called mettā bhāvanā; translating to “loving kindness” or “kind friendliness.”
In its most basic form, it is practising kind and loving thoughts towards other people. Here is a practical example: You are on the bus, or sitting in a café, and you notice a person and you focus all your heart and mind energy on thinking: “I wish for this person to be happy.” You repeat this phrase in your brain, and you feel it in your heart, for 30 seconds or so. I like to imagine a warm sunny glow of love wrapping around that person, like a big ol’ hug.
Yes, this is basically the equivalent of sending someone ‘good vibes’ and reading it, it might seem like t-shirt slogan wisdom, but give it a go. You can do this anywhere, you just need a heart and a brain and a person to focus both of them on. No problemo! Got a best friend living overseas? Shine that warm glow on them. Shine it on the person who just walked past your desk. Shine it on the driver in the car in front of you.
The more you focus on that warm feeling, the happier you will feel. And this is important for two reasons.
Firstly, practising loving kindness towards other people will make you feel warmer and softer about other people, which is a good thing. We live in very divisive times and it is very easy to forget the humanity in all of us. There are political leaders around the world who thrive on fear and hatred, who make their living in appealing to our worst instincts. If we can practise loving kindness towards random people out in our daily life, we can fight against that. Particularly if we can practise it towards people who might not agree with us, e.g. if you can practise it towards the driver in front of you who just cut you off, it’s better for your blood pressure than swearing at him.
Secondly, practising loving kindness towards other people will make you feel warmer and softer about yourself. Heck, you’re a person too – and you also deserve the warm soft glow of love. A lot of the bad habits we have come from mentally beating ourselves up for not getting things right, for not being as efficient as we ‘should’ be, for having a Snake Day, not a Labrador Day. If we learn how to love the flawed humanity in other people, we can learn how to love it in ourselves as well. And then we all live in the warm sunny glow of love.*
If you want to listen to a guided meditation about this, I highly recommend the smooth, relaxing and quite sultry voice of Tara Brach, here.
* I absolutely realise it sounds like I was high as a kite while writing these sentences, but I promise you I’m just high on love, baby.