Do you remember the last time someone thanked or complimented you on a job well done? At one point or another, we have all experienced that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from feeling appreciated. A few kind words can go a long way toward making our day.
Unfortunately, however, our society tends to be based more on competition than on the values of caring and cooperation. We compete with others for the best schools, the best jobs, even the shortest lines at the grocery store. Our underlying belief system of a “dog-eat-dog world” is often founded on fears of scarcity and thinking there is not enough to go around.
Starting a gratitude practice by focusing each day on all the things we are grateful for in our lives can be one way to begin to change our perception of the world. Another helpful method can be the Buddhist practice of loving-kindness. Rather than taking others for granted and/or seeing them as potential competitors for all the good things in life, we can begin to appreciate them for all they do and send positive thoughts their way.
Developing both a formal loving-kindness meditation practice and an informal practice can be an effective way to help attain a sense of interconnectedness with others. In this way, we begin to foster greater warmth, compassion, and kindness toward ourselves and others, and reframe our view of the world.
A formal loving-kindness meditation consists of several parts:
- Sitting in a comfortable position, close your eyes and begin to focus on your breath. Try to let go of any concerns or thoughts about your day. After a few moments, start to direct your attention to your heart, bringing a feeling of warmth, love, and kindness inward. As you breathe in and out, slowly begin to silently repeat the following or similar phrases several times: May I dwell in the heart. May I be happy and healthy. May I be safe. May I be at peace.
- After directing loving thoughts toward yourself for a few moments, bring to mind someone close to you and begin to direct the same warmth and kindness toward that individual by repeating the following several times: May you dwell in the heart. May you be happy and healthy. May you be safe. May you be at peace. After a few moments, you can expand these feelings toward other people you know, such as family members, friends, and coworkers. If you are having difficulty with any of your relationships or have bad feelings toward anyone, try practicing sending these thoughts of loving-kindness toward them as well.
- Finish your loving-kindness meditation by sending these same feelings to all sentient beings: May all sentient beings dwell in the heart. May all sentient beings be happy and healthy. May all sentient beings be safe. May all sentient beings be at peace.
The practice of loving-kindness can help to reframe our perception of the world from one of lack and competition to one of compassion and caring.
As an informal practice, it can be helpful throughout your day to tap back into these feelings anytime you feel triggered by anger, irritation, or frustration. Rather than becoming upset when cut off in traffic, for example, try sending thoughts of loving-kindness toward the person who cut you off. If your significant other irritates you because they left their clothes on the floor, practice sending friendly thoughts their way rather than starting an argument.
Begin to let go of some of the stressors that may have been cause for concern in the past, even if initially it feels like a bit of a struggle to do so. By making this a regular part of your routine, you may strengthen your ability to be kind and considerate and begin to notice others responding in kind.
The practice of loving-kindness can help to reframe our perception of the world from one of lack and competition to one of compassion and caring. This exercise can remind us we are all seeking the same things at heart and assist us in developing a greater sense of empathy and kindness. We can then begin to feel more connected to others and to the world around us.
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