Do you want to change?
Do you maybe want to become happy, wise, peaceful, or simply – a better person?
When you look deeply into your desire for change, you may find something uncomfortable at the bottom – a lack of self-love and self-acceptance.
In ancient teachings reaching right back to the time of the Buddha, we can find ways to cultivate loving-kindness toward ourselves and others.
Here’s the good news:
Each one of us has the capacity for boundless love and kindness.
That’s why it can’t be given or acquired.
We’re like water. Water can’t become any wetter, because being wet is not something apart from water.
In the same way, love and kindness are not attributes that we can add to our being. Our true self is loving and kind at its core.
Zen Master John Tarrant says :
If you are busy thinking you should be kind, you might miss the reality that kindness is already present. In you.
“Ok then,” – you might want to ask – “if that’s the case, why am I often grumpy and struggle to feel kindness in my heart?”
The answer is simple: our capacity for boundless love and kindness is buried deep within. So deep, that we sometimes can’t feel it at all. It’s as if the heart goes numb.
There is a way to uncover the natural radiance of your heart.
It won’t happen all at once, though.
Think of the process like a bud opening. At first it’s closed and you can’t even see what it will become. Then – little by little – the bud begins to unfurl and finally the flower appears in all its beauty.
You can’t hurry up the process. You can’t bend the petals of a bud outwards in order to make it flower sooner. Well, maybe you can, but the bud will be ruined.
Can YOU feel deeply – or is your heart numb?
It can happen to all of us that our heart goes numb. At such times, even if we know that we love others, or that we love life – we can’t quite feel it. It’s like looking out over a landscape on a misty day. You can sense the outlines, but clarity is missing.
If your heart is asleep, you feel numb. It’s like watching life through a glass pane.
Children can show us what it’s like for the heart to be awake.
A few days ago I was in a parking lot at a supermarket. There was a truck beside me with two young girls in it, waiting for their mother. In the front was a little five-year old redhead. Suddenly the little red-head leaned out of the window. She was so excited, her whole body wriggled.
“I can see her,” she shouted to her older sister on the back seat , “I can see Mummy!”
When was the last time you loved like that – so deeply, so keenly?
Sometimes the only time we feel love so deeply as adults, is when we first fall in love – or when we lose someone we love.
Why does the heart go numb?
Numbness of the heart is a natural protection from pain. Every time we have a painful experience, we tend to grow a protective layer around our heart. The awful thing is that this protective layer doesn’t just shield us from pain, it numbs all emotions.
There is a way we try to rationalize our numb heart. Maybe we think, “I’m a realist, not a romantic”, or “I don’t like all that lovey-dovey stuff,” or, “I’d rather not get hurt.” Or we respond to others or ourselves in a sarcastic, cutting or snide way. These are all signs of a numb heart.
How can the heart awaken?
There is a natural way of awakening the heart that we all know about. It’s falling in love. Ask any one who is freshly in love, and they will rave about how wonderful the person they love is. And how beautiful the world is. How bright the colors are, and how unique and wonderful every human being is.
But there is a problem … the euphoria doesn’t last.
Luckily, there is another way of awakening the heart. A way that lasts. And that is through loving-kindness practice.
What loving-kindness does is to ease away the protective layers around the heart. The practice of loving-kindness (or Metta) allows love to transform us.
What holds us back from the transformation of love is fear. The English psychoanalyst John McMurray spoke of people being either ‘fear-determined’ or ‘love-determined’:
There are two…emotional attitudes through which human life can be radically determined. They are love and fear. The fear-determined have no sun in themselves and go about putting out the sun in other people. Whereas the love-determined have life in them, abundant life. They are the people who are really alive, of whom it can be said that they possess eternal life as a well within them perpetually springing.
Is your life determined by love or by fear?
As John McMurray says, “the fear-determined … go about putting out the sun in other people.”
What does he mean by, “Putting out the sun in other peope”?
It’s when we focus on other people’s faults and weaknesses. It’s when we put others down, when we use snide or sarcastic comments in order to put out their light.
If you are ruled by fear, you not only go about putting out the light of others, you also extinguish your own light.
Here are the thoughts that put out your own sun:
“No use trying!”, “I’m hopeless at that!”, “I’ll never learn!”, “This is too difficult!”
Each time you play these negative tapes, you extinguish your light, and negate your potential. And when you look at others and their perceived talent and success, you may feel envy – which is really a wish to extinguish the light of others.
How can we move from fear towards love?
The key is intimacy
We move from fear towards love when we start to connect deeply with ourselves.
What does that mean?
It means being present to our experience of the moment. Whether we experience joy, or anguish, or restlessness, or fear, or anger – if we shine the soft light of awareness on our experience, we are no longer separate from ourselves.
What is the natural state of the heart?
Imagine that you release your heart from all the protective layers. What do you find at the core?
What you find is that the heart is joyful, radiant, and boundless. Our natural way of being is a state of intimate connection with all beings.
Maybe you feel worlds away from such an experience?
It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because we are all on a path. All that counts is that everything we do moves us closer to our aspirations. On the spiritual path there is no fast or slow. There are no big or small steps. All you need to do is to practice loving-kindness – and little by little, your radiant heart will shine through.
How to uncover the radiant heart within.
You can uncover the radiant heart by practicing loving-kindness, or metta meditation. This meditation was taught by the Buddha as an antidote to fear. It’s the practice of cherishing the goodness in us, as well as in others. Thich Nhat Hanh translates the term loving-kindness or metta as “the intention and capacity to offer joy and happiness.”
The most important point here is that you need to start with yourself. You need to offer yourself loving-kindness. It’s the foundation of loving-kindness practice.
Here is a simple loving-kindness meditation. It can slowly strip away the layers of protection, and reveal the radiant heart at the core of your being.
As you breathe in – cherish yourself
As you breathe out – cherish all beings
At first, you may find it difficult to cherish yourself. Sometimes, we can be our worst enemy. It may even seem selfish to cherish yourself.
However, when you say, ‘May I be at ease?’ – who is the one you are cherishing?
Is the “I” you dedicate your loving-kindness to … just this bag of skin?
The magic of loving-kindness is that as you go deeper into the practice, you find that this ‘I’, this self – is without boundary.
The self includes mountains, rivers, wasps, hedgehogs, the warmth of the summer sun, the sharp winter wind, those close, and those far away. This ‘I’, this self, contains the whole universe.
As you breathe in – cherish yourself
As you breathe out – cherish all beings
You can either practice this during seated meditation, or you can pull out this meditation at odd moments during the day.
Here is a story that shows how to cherish something or someone completely. It’s from Maurice Sendak, the author the magical children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are.
Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it.
I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.”
Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.”
That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”
– Maurice Sendak
See. Love. Eat.
This little boy knew how to cherish completely.
Loving-kindness practice is simple. But it can transform the way you experience life.
As your heart’s capacity for love and kindness grows, you’ll find a great fullness of being, discover a warm kinship with all beings, and reveal the radiant heart within.
What happens when you try this meditation? Please share in the comments.