“Like a caring mother holding and guarding the life of her only child, so with a boundless heart of loving-kindness, hold yourself and all beings as your beloved children.” ~ Buddha
In the Buddhist teachings on true love, there are four elements.
Maitri: friendship, brotherhood/sisterhood, and loving-kindness.
Karuna: the capacity to understand suffering and help to alleviate and transform it—compassion.
Mudita: sympathetic joy—not just for us, but also for others.
Upeksha: non-discrimination or equanimity.
Taken together, these are known as The Four Immeasurables, which are said to purify and transform the heart.
I had read and heard about them, but didn’t realize their full power until the first practice, loving-kindness, transformed me.
The first time I learned about loving-kindness practice was 14 years ago, during a full day of meditation. I was surprised when I felt tears running down my cheeks—up to that point, the day had been calm and uneventful, almost boring.
The practice allowed me to tap into a deep sorrow that seemed buried in my heart.
Then, I attended a three-day insight meditation retreat where this practice was taught. Once again, I sobbed through the whole practice. I was feeling the pain and suffering of a younger me, age five, confused and sad after the death of my grandfather, who was my best friend and taught me how to read and write. I also recognized the pain of an older, teenage me, hurt and confused by sudden mood swings and bursts of anger from my father when he was ill with leukemia and undergoing experimental treatments.
The story of this practice has always touched me:
The Buddha prescribed it to monks in his practice community, or Sangha, who went on their first three-month retreat in the forest. Here, they encountered wild animals making loud, frightening sounds at night, while sleeping on the forest floor, under big trees in complete darkness.
They could not concentrate on their meditations because they were so afraid.
They tried staying in the forest for many nights, until, finally, they decided they couldn’t take it anymore. They packed the few things they had with them and went back to the monastery.
When they arrived, the Buddha asked what had happened to bring them back so soon. They told him their story. The Buddha then gave them the following phrases to recite, over and over again, with real feeling and intention, to help alleviate their fears (these have likely been modified by many teachers over the years, but their intention remains the same):
May I be safe and protected from inner and outer harm.
May I be happy and peaceful of heart and mind.
May I be strong and healthy of body.
May I care for myself with ease and joy.
Just as these phrases helped the monks fight their fears and feel safe enough to live in the forest for many months, they have also helped me. I was deep in the Himalayas, at altitudes above 16,000 feet, suffering altitude sickness and shortness of breath. I was cut off from communication with my loved ones and facing all my anxieties and fears at once.
I repeated these phrases over and over again, day and night, whenever I felt a panic attack coming on.
They helped me to survive those two weeks without losing my mind.
Over the years, repeating these phrases during periods of distress and intense fear have helped me find the courage to face whatever circumstances I’ve had to.
And, at the same time, the practice highlighted the blocks in my heart I felt from time to time, and helped me to heal the wounds that caused these blocks.
“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I’d like to see you in better living conditions.” ~ Hafiz
The following is a loving-kindness with compassion practice I have often shared, using traditional phrases and also guiding participants to use their own phrases. The intentions in the phrases are sent to loved ones, ourselves, strangers, those we have difficulty with, and are extended out toward all beings everywhere.
I have found it to be a powerful practice that helps with intense feelings of fear, anxiety, and helplessness, as well as other difficult emotions. It also helps to build self-love and feelings of love and kindness toward others.
Finally, it can help develop neutral or compassionate feelings, leading to more skillful communication with those who are difficult.
May this practice of loving-kindness free your heart as it has freed mine.
Author: Rose Mina Munjee
Image: elephant journal
Editor: Emily Bartran
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Taia Butler