DaRa sets the stage for practice by offering a few words on setting up for practice – checking in with posture, the breath – inviting a relaxed position.
When it comes to the heart practices, I particularly like the phrasing that Jeanne Corrigal often uses – to settle yourself like you’re setting a good friend. I can imagine what I would do: they get the comfy chair – the one with nice support – maybe a warm blanket, a cup of tea. And then I would turn my attention to this dear friend and be with them fully. So how can I treat this one sitting here, about to meditate, with that same care and kindness? This helps me set the mental intention and warm up the heart.
DaRa also recognizes that idea of generating a sense of kindness might be challenging or feel inauthentic – and that’s okay too. Then we can set an intention towards kindness. We don’t have to feel it – this quality of heart will blossom in its own way.
DaRa then lists out four ways to support a sense of kindness and caring.
Support 1: We can use phrases. The ones DaRa mentions are “May I be safe and protected. May I be happy and peaceful. May I be healthy and strong. May I take care of myself with ease.”
We can tweak the phrases so that we can relate to them more fully. I learned from Jeanne some variations, like “May I be safe and protected from inner and outer harm.” I like that addition, because often a lot harm I experience is from the inner-critic and negative self-talk. So I can feel into that wish wholeheartedly. “May I be happy and joyful in the midst of this.” For me, the addition there recognizes that what’s going on might not be smooth sailing, but even in the choppiness, there can be some happiness. (As Jack Gilbert writes in A Brief for the Defense, “We must have / the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless / furnace of this world.”)
Support 2: Through a memory of someone who might have been there for you in a pinch, a friend that supports you, a pet.
Support 3: Through creative visualization or creative imagination – imagining being with a person or being that generates this sense of kindness, even if you’ve never met them. (I don’t relate to this one as much – but I have found Jeanne’s describing at how looking at a smiling picture of Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama can spark a little warmth.)
Support 4: Through a body memory – so even if we can’t bring up a specific example of a friend or pet or inspirational being, we might have a felt sense of this sense of caring that we have offered or received. (I’ll sometimes prime the felt sense by having a soft blanket or a little stuffed animal in my pocket that I can pet for a bit.) For me, this resonates a bit with an invitation Jeanne will sometimes offer – to abide in kindness.
Some things will resonate more for you than others, and things may shift over time. On days that I’m scattered, the phrases and their patterns and repetition help me settle. Other days, resting in a felt sense of kindness, and breathing it in and out work better. I think we need to be willing to play and experiment and stretch our stories of what will or won’t work.
“This practice of loving kindness is a wellspring practice that nourishes and enriches the mindfulness practice.”
DaRa also invites us to consider what words we use to relate to this practice. “Loving kindness” might not make sense, and the idea of love might be too loaded for you or for the relationships you have with some people. We might relate better to a word like “goodwill”. DaRa explains why that work might be more suitable:
goodwill is an attitude you can express for everyone, without fear of being hypocritical or unrealistic. It recognizes that people will become truly happy, not as a result of your caring for them, but as a result of their own skillful actions, and that the happiness of self reliance is greater than any happiness that comes from dependency.
DaRa leads a guided meditation that brings in these different approaches, and goes through some different categories of beings, starting with a friend or pet – wishing them well – then a neutral person (like a clerk you often see at the store or some being in nature) – then oneself – then creating a circle of benefactors.
You can notice what resonates and what doesn’t so that you can develop your own playbook for practice.
With heartfelt good wishes,