Ever heard the adage that we can’t look after others until we have learnt to look after ourselves? It was a point that was brought home strongly on my professional complementary medicine training.
That is where I was first introduced too and started working with Kindness meditation by one of my tutors, Howard Carter and it helped me immensely in ways I couldn’t have even started to imagine.
This generative form of meditation practise taught me to build a safe place for myself. Some people choose a real place: somewhere from their past or present; for others, there isn’t anywhere ‘safe’ and you start from scratch, in your imagination.
Experiencing a space where you can totally let go and be yourself was revolutionary for me. I could feel myself expand into it and from this safe place I could then explore other aspects of my life experience and the emotions I was dealing with, right then.
Being kind really means starting with yourself and giving yourself what you need. This maybe something you have never had the opportunity to develop.
When I started a Metta Bhavana (translates literally as ‘cultivating loving kindness’) practise alongside a Mindfulness practise at the London Buddhist Centre, I was immediately totally engaged with it. It spoke to me. It showed me what I appreciated about myself; and what I did not- it taught me to accept.
The writing of Chogyam Trungpa particularly helped me with this: emphasising the importance of assimilating our whole being and not breaking off or isolating the bits of us that we disapproved of. It was in these parts that what he called the ‘fertiliser’ of our practise was contained. Embracing these parts of us, utilizing the fertilizer, was the key to moving forward and wholeness. Acceptance.
Through bringing a good friend to mind in the Metta Bhavana practise and examining the qualities I treasured in their friendship; I started to understand what I valued myself, and the codes I lived my own life by. I saw more clearly and positively, appreciated and respected myself more as a result.
It also demonstrated, as I’d taken it for granted, how much in life I had to be grateful for. From a purely physical level: my heart beating blood and oxygen through my veins 24/7, into the awe of the miracle of the life that we are. To a more experiential level, thanking my teachers throughout life and even those people that I found most difficult to deal with, one of them now a friend.
I know how hard it is to be kind to oneself: as in life, as on the cushion. Often my experience on the cushion informs and illuminates me as to my behaviour off the cushion. When I am practicing Mindfulness and my mind wanders off and when I come back into awareness I often hear a critical automatic voice in my head saying ‘There you go again, wondering off, not good enough’, and then energetically dragging myself back, by the scruff of the neck, to the breath. That is not kindness. That is judgement.
You wouldn’t want to parent a child like that. Yet that’s often how I treat myself. It took my meditation practise to see that: to acknowledge the critical voices, and to challenge my belief in them… Then I am being kind.
If Kindness meditation is about anything it is about the heart. And the heart has many qualities: generosity, gratitude, acceptance, appreciation, empathy… This work helps you develop all these more fully in your life.
One of my favourite practises is to feel into my physical heart sensations. I was shocked initially by what I found. A sense of resistance, of hardness, twisted gristle, as if I’d found a part starved of oxygen, of life. While other areas melted with softness, and the contrast between the two. Sometimes feeling the hardness dissolve and space materialising where moments before there was none. Whatever I find there, it’s all me.
The kinder you are to yourself and your experience the more connected you feel with the rest of life. A kindness practise emphasises the commonality of all humanity. We are all the same. We all suffer. We all want to be happy; we all want to be well, and to make progress in our lives. The more we develop this inter-connectness, the more contented and open to life and experience we become. Giving ourselves permission to be who we truly are.
One of my favourite practitioners, Sahajamani told me years ago that the truly open heart can never be broken. Automatically my body tried to intuit this and at the time I felt vulnerable and exposed, yet it resonated and stayed with me… I knew its truth.
Now when I reflect on this, and it occurs to me how incredible this is as I write, dare I write it? I feel strong! I’ve developed more resilience…. And I’m incredibly grateful, for that gift.
Thank you to:
Howard Carter, Sandalphon School of Healing
The London Buddhist Centre and the many teachers there over the years: www.lbc.org.uk
Sahajamani (Sally Lancaster) www.wellbeingeast.com
View Helen’s therapy schedule.