Saturday, July 31, 2010

Directing the love flow

When you’ve initated the flow of love, you can channel it, first to yourself and then to the other people in your life. After practicing the preceding meditation for five minutes or longer, continue in the following way:
  1. As you allow lovingkindness to fill your being, you may want to express the wishes and intentions that underlie this love. For example, you might say to yourself, as the Buddhists do, “May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be free from suffering.” Or you may want to choose something from the Western religious tradition, such as “May I be filled with the grace and love of God.” Feel free to use whatever words feel right for you. Just be sure to keep them general, simple, and emotionally evocative. As the recipient, be sure to take in the love as well as extend it.
  2. When you feel complete with yourself for now, imagine someone for whom you feel gratitude and respect. Take some time (at least a few minutes) to direct the flow of love to this person, using similar words to express your intentions. Don’t hurry; allow yourself to feel the love as much as you can, rather than merely imagine it.
  3. Take some time to direct this lovingkindness to a loved one or dear friend in a similar way.Direct this flow of love to someone for whom you feel neutral — perhaps someone you see from time to time but toward whom you have neither positive nor negative feelings.
  4. Now, for the hardest part of this exercise: Direct your lovingkindness to someone toward whom you feel mildly negative feelings like irritation or hurt
By extending love to this person, even just a little at first, you begin to develop the capacity to keep your heart open even in challenging circumstances. Eventually, you can extend love to people toward whom you experience stronger emotions like anger, fear, or pain.

Opening the love gates

The following steps are a meditation for connecting with your soft spot and initiating the flow of unconditional love, also known as lovingkindness. (To distinguish this kind of love from conditional love, imagine the love of a good mother for her baby. She gives her love freely and unconditionally, without expecting anything in return except her baby’s happiness and well-being.) As with all the meditations presented in this chapter, you may want to begin with five or ten minutes of a mindfulness practice like counting or following your breaths in order to deepen and stabilize your concentration. Once you get the knack, though, the cultivation of lovingkindness itself can be an excellent way to develop concentration.
  1. Begin by closing your eyes, taking a few deep breaths, and relaxing your body a little with each exhalation.
  2. Imagine the face of someone who loved you very much as a child and whose love moved you deeply.
  3. Remember a time when this person showed his or her love for you and you really took it in.
  4. Notice the gratitude and love this memory evokes in your heart.n Allow these feelings to well up and fill your heart.
  5. Gently extend these feelings to this loved one. You may even experience a circulation of love between the two of you as you give and receive love freely.
  6. Allow these loving feelings to overflow and gradually suffuse your whole being. Allow yourself to be filled with love.

Four dimensions of love

Like water, love comes in many shapes and sizes. Just as a crystal-clear mountain lake, a still forest pool, a trickling creek, and a roaring river are all composed of water, so tender emotions like kindness, compassion, joy, gratitude, forgiveness, devotion, generosity, and peace or equanimity arise in the heart and ultimately consist of love. Remember: These aren’t abstractions —they’re natural human qualities that you can learn how to cultivate and communicate to others.
Among all these tender emotions, the Buddhists emphasize the following four as the cornerstones of a happy and fulfilling life:
  • Lovingkindness: Arises spontaneously in response to the kindness of others and consists of warm, loving, caring feelings that can be deliberately increased and extended.
  • Compassion: Takes love a step further. In addition to caring about others, you also feel their suffering and naturally feel motivated to help relieve it. (The word compassion means “to suffer with.”)
  • Sympathetic joy: Is the flip side of compassion. It consists of happy feelings that arise in response to the happiness and good fortune of others.
  • Equanimity: Can be cultivated through the basic meditation practices taught in this book; also known as steadiness of heart. No matter what happens, you expand to include it without allowing it to upset or disturb you.

Appreciating your own goodness

If you have difficulty extending loving feelings to yourself, you may want to take five or ten minutes to reflect on your good qualities or the good things you’ve done in your life. Go ahead, it won’t hurt you!
In the West, we have a cultural taboo against praising ourselves. Instead, we often focus on our shortcomings, which only ends up making us feel contracted and afraid. “Pride goes before a fall,” chides the old slogan, suggesting that you’d better watch out because any satisfaction you take in yourself or your accomplishments could destroy you. “Who do you think you are?” intones the childhood voice of an exasperated mother or father, unwittingly teaching shame and self-doubt.
Despite what your parents (or other influential people) may have implied or told you, it’s okay to be happy and to feel good about yourself. By focusing on your goodness, you actually generate positive, expansive feelings that nourish you and everyone around you. “Joy,” said the Buddha, “is the gateway to nirvana.”