with great kindness
inspired by Gnossienne 2, by Erik Satie
the way morning sunRosemerry Wahtola Trommer
touches the sunflower leaf–
you may say that’s not kindness,
it’s just how it is. exactly.
let me love like that
Somedays, it might feel far away, but kindness is a natural state we can access, and it’s something that we can cultivate and grow.
Emma Seppälä researches, writes, and teaches on the “science of health, happiness and success” – the tagline on her website.
In one post, she writes:
During my dissertation research at Stanford, I learned that many people don’t feel connected to others and that this low sense of connection impacts their health and well-being tremendously…. Studies also show that compassion is a key ingredient to our health and well-being but that, sadly, we’re not always as kind to others as we would like to be.
Worse yet, we’re not always kind to ourselves. Self-criticism is psychologically destructive. On the other hand, self-compassion — the opposite of self-criticism and self-loathing — is incredibly healing and leads to resilience….Seppälä, E. (2014, May 28). A Gift of Loving Kindness Meditation. Emma Seppälä, Ph.D.
That’s when I found out about Loving-Kindness Meditation, whose purpose is to make people feel more connected and kind to others as well as to themselves. There was very little research on loving-kindness meditation at the time we started our research. So my fabulous colleague Cendri Hutcherson and I launched a 5 year study of loving-kindness and examined its impact on well-being, happiness and the brain. 100s of participants went through our studies and we found some really interesting data!
Emma’s site has another post that outlines several studies that document the benefits of a kindness practice:
“18 Science-Based Reasons to Try Loving-Kindness Meditation Today!”
So how do we do this? There are many different styles of practice. The first format I learned was through the use of repeating phrases that express our deepest aspiration for the well-being of ourselves and others. The phrases become the anchor for our meditation – when we notice the attention wanders, we return to the phrase.
We aren’t trying to feel any particular feelings – we may feel warm and connected – or not. We may, in fact, find things that get in the way of being kind – to ourselves especially. If we notice difficulty, we can relate to that with kindness too (refer back to the MUK practice, for example).
The usual practice with phrases directs the well-wishing to different categories of beings: oneself, a benefactor (someone who has helped you, who make you smile – could be a teacher, grandparent, a pet), a friend, a person we don’t know well (the clerk who rang through your grocery order), a difficult person (start simple – like the person who cut you off in traffic), and all beings everywhere. Most teachers recommend we start with what’s easiest, and then widen the circle from there. That may be yourself, or it may be a benefactor. We extend phrases of well wishing.
Sharon Salzberg has a simple set of phrases:
May you be safe, be happy, be healthy, live with ease.
You can experiment with this or find phrases that resonate. The idea is to find phrases that would work for anyone. (So not “may you get the job you want so you can pay the landlord the rent that is due next month.”)
As you settle in the practice, you may wish to drop the full phrase and work with a single pith word (ease).
Through the repetition of phrases, we can connect to this deep aspiration and help it grow.
Want to give it a try? Here’s a practice led by Sharon Salzberg (includes a script too)
A Guided Loving-Kindness Meditation with Sharon Salzberg (Mindful)
I find that I use the phrases outside of meditation too. One of my current practices is to repeat the phrases while washing my hands. What I appreciated about that is it gave me something to do for the 20-40 seconds we’re supposed to be soaping, lathering, scrubbing, rinsing. And it was a good antidote to the fear and worry I was feeling, especially in the early days of the pandemic.
There are many other ways to practice – different phrases, or dropping the phrases to abide in kindness and radiate it out, and others. So if this practice doesn’t work for you now, no worries – try a different style of kindness practice. (You could search metta on this site for other posts from previous years.) And come back and try this another time… It may click under different circumstances.
What are some ways you cultivate kindness? What gets in the way?