Peace comes when our hearts are open like the sky, vast as the ocean.
New Years Tradition
Each January, I ask you to choose one word, just for you. Rather than make a list of “shoulds” for the New Year, decide on one word that has meaning for you in some way. A single word can be a powerful thing. It can be the ripple in the pond that changes everything. It can be a catalyst for enriching your life and becoming more of who you truly are. For a better understanding of this tradition, here is the word I chose last year, the word I chose the year before, and here is the word I chose the year before that.
This year, I am choosing the word “compassion” and here’s why. Although much negativity exists in the world, we can be a healing presence in the face of increasing indifference and heartlessness. My wish for the world is that people find compassion in their hearts, for themselves and for others.
One way to personally bring compassion into the world is to practice the LovingKindness Meditation. This meditation is designed to help you stay open and loving — compassionate towards yourself and others. It may also help to keep you calm and kind in difficult situations and reduce irritation and anger. In the words of Jack Kornfield, well-known meditation teacher: “The LovingKindness Meditation uses words, images, and feelings to evoke a lovingkindness and friendliness toward oneself and others. With each recitation of the phrases, we are expressing an intention, planting the seeds of loving wishes over and over in our heart. With a loving heart as the background, all that we attempt, all that we encounter will open and flow easily.”
Take a comfortable position and bring awareness to the breath and to the body just as they are. Let your body be at rest and relax — letting go, as best, of plans and preoccupations — allowing a feeling of kindness and tenderness to arise. Begin by focusing on yourself. This step is important: without kindness for yourself, it is nearly impossible to be kind or compassionate with others. Now, saying these words to yourself:
May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be filled with peace and ease
May I be safe
Continue repeating the phrases until they are like a song you sing quietly to yourself – feeling free to adjust the language so that you find the best words and phrases to nourish kindness in your own heart. You might want to add:
May I be free from pain and sorrow
May I be free from fear, anxiety, and worry
May I be well
(Repeat the phrases)
When you feel you have established a stronger sense of LovingKindness for yourself, you can then expand your meditation to include others. So now, choose a person in your life who has been kind to you and truly cared about you. Bring this person to mind, saying the following words to yourself:
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be filled with peace and ease
May you be safe
May you be free from pain and sorrow
May you be free from fear, anxiety, and worry
May you be well
Let the image you have of this person support your meditation. Whether your vision is clear or foggy, continue to repeat the phrases. Expressing gratitude to a kind person in your life is a natural form of love. For those who have difficulty wishing themselves loving-kindness, beginning with a kind person may be more productive. The only rule in loving-kindness is to follow the way that most easily opens your heart.
As wishing love for another person becomes familiar, begin to include others. Picture each person and extend loving-kindness to him or her, one at a time. After this you can spend some time wishing well to a larger circle of friends. Then gradually begin to include neighbors, your community, people everywhere, animals, all beings…the whole earth…
Finally, include difficult people in your life, wishing that they, too, might be filled with LovingKindness and peace. This may take some practice, some patience and commitment. However, as your heart opens, first to loved ones and then to friends and others, you may find, in time, you don’t want to close your heart to anyone.
Practice as long as you like. When you are ready to stop, open your eyes and allow the body to stretch slowly. Notice how you feel without judgment or criticism – allowing yourself to feel however you feel. LovingKindness can be practiced anywhere. As you silently practice the phrases of loving-kindness in traffic, on airplanes, in doctors’ waiting rooms or other places, a deeper feeling of connection and compassion for all of life arises. This is the power of LovingKindness. This meditation is designed to calm your mind and keep you connected to your heart and to the present moment.