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January 30, 2017

Lovingkindness: an antidote in times of hate

I write about lovingkindness a lot. I’ve come to understand that such an interest and investment of practice in metta is unusual. What I also know is that it is a balm for my heart. It has never been more necessary than in the face of a new form of hatred and fear that is pervasive in my country’s culture and government at the moment.

Truly, lovingkindness is an antidote to not only times in which hatred seems to be swirling around us, but to the fear and uncertainty that arises from that kind of attitude and atmosphere.

But, in recent months, it has served a very specific purpose for my heart. It helps me remember that I am interconnected with all other beings on this planet. It reminds me that I am not alone. When practicing, I experience a deep experience of my own preciousness.

Lovingkindness has been an antidote to every message I receive that I am unwelcome, unworthy, or less-than.

One of my teachers makes an amendment to the Metta Sutta, an original text which describes the practice of Metta Bhavana (lovingkindness meditation).

The line reads, “excluding none,” to which my teach adds, “including yourself, maybe especially.”

This is the beauty of metta: we begin with ourselves. We start with our own hearts. Like dropping a stone into a pond, and watching the tiny waves ripple outward, we begin exactly where we are.

In the Udana, in the Pali canon, we see the words:

“Searching all directions
with one’s awareness,
one finds no one dearer
than oneself.”

This is the heart of metta: a direct experiencing of our own worth and exquisite dearness.

But it points to something else: that we all are truly worth of this kind of affection. That we are united by our desire to feel loved. Each of us wants to feel safe and happy and at peace.

Practicing lovingkindness allows us to access and tap into this shared human experience. It dissolves the barriers of our hearts. By repeating the phrases of blessings in lovingkindness practice, we experience how alike we all truly are.

We’re not alike in some kumbaya-spiritual-bypass sort of way, either.

We are truly, inextricably linked with all of humanity. And if that is the case, isn’t the natural solution to offer love to everyone you meet? To work toward the liberation of all beings?

This means we have the power to act, to make change, to stand in love for all.

We have the capacity, no matter how far from one another, to offer these simple blessings for all beings everywhere. The current phrases I’m working with look something like this:

May you feel safe
May you feel joyful
May you feel courageous
May you live with ease

We repeat those phrases over and over in our lovingkindness practice. Offering them to ourselves, to our beloveds, and finally to all beings everywhere.

Then (and this is the key) endowed with that kind of fierce love, we move out into the world and act. With wisdom, with compassion, we take skillful action on behalf of our collective liberation.

This is the antidote to fear, hatred and separation.

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