Save the World – One Breath at a Time

By Mary Jaksch

What do you think about most? It’s likely to be about yourself. How you were, how you are, how you will be, what people think about you, and so on.

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That is why the world is like it is: full of suffering. Just open the newspaper and you will see suffering all over the world. You can also find suffering right next door. I am sure you too know friends and family members who are going through hard times. And maybe you yourself are suffering.

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I want to share with you a wonderful way of changing our self-centred way of being. It’s a meditation that heals and opens. It’s from an ancient Buddhist text, called the Metta Sutra. Metta – or loving-kindness – is an ancient form of Buddhist meditation.

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In the Metta Sutra it says:

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Cherish all living beings;
Radiate kindness over the entire world;
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downward to the depths;
Outward and unbounded,
Free from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down,
One should sustain this recollection.

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What a wonderful aspiration! Aspirations are like lofty mountains that we look up to. We may never make it to the summit but the towering peak defines the path we travel. I think if you and I – and everyone else on the planet – were to live by this loving-kindness practice, the world would be a better place.

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Well, we can’t be responsible for the way others live their lives. But we can determine how we live. To this end I want to show you a simple way to put this grand aspiration into practice.

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The root of the word ‘aspiration’ is the Latin word ‘aspirare’, to ‘breathe upon’. The breath is life-giving. When we breathe in, we take in the energy of the whole world. When we breathe out, we connect with all beings. Mindful breathing is a natural meditation technique that many spiritual traditions include.

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The particular kindness meditation I want to suggest to you today – which I call Boundless Kindness – has the breath at its centre. The central practice is to radiate kindness in all directions and at all times. You can approach this practice by following the seven steps below:

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  1. Choose a time when you are undisturbed
  2. Sit upright and silent
  3. Focus softly on your breath flowing in and out
  4. Dedicate each breath to the wellbeing of all
  5. Imagine your kindness flowing into the world with every out-breath.
  6. Feel it flow from you in all directions
  7. Notice kindness flow through your own body, softening it with each out-breath

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As the Metta Sutra suggests, you can also practice Boundless Kindness whilst moving. I recently tried it while running. As soon as I dedicated each puff of breath to all beings, my face relaxed and I smiled, even though I was struggling uphill. You can try this meditation when you practise yoga, when you are caught in a traffic jam, when you are doing the dishes, when you are standing in an elevator, or as you lie in bed just before you drift into sleep. In fact, you can practise it at any time. Try it and see what it’s like!

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Can Boundless Kindness save the world?

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This practice transforms the heart and inclines it towards kindness. When practising Boundless Kindness, you will notice that the mind lets go of the ME-tape that continually plays stories about yourself. It allows you to be kindly towards yourself and all those you encounter. The kindness you radiate is infections. People respond with warmth and smiles. And the encounter with you will shape the way they respond to others. In that way it’s like throwing a stone into a still pond: your ripples of kindness spread throughout the world without end.

Enjoy these related articles:

De-stress, Unwind: The True Value of Silence

How to Meditate: 10 Important Tips

What is Natural Spirituality?

How to Make Life Spacious

Photo by Peter K

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{ 22 Comments }

  1. Roy says:

    Mark Twain once said, “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Breathing, more often that not, taken for granted, but powerful. Such is kindness, unobstrusive yet sparks up light and life!

  2. @ Roy
    What a beautiful quote! It’s so true – everyone can understand kindness.

    I remember when I was traveling in the back blocks of Morocco last year that I could pick out the kind people with ease – even though I couldn’t understand their language. Their smile said it all!

  3. Arne says:

    Mary, I just watched the news, they showed a video capturing a 78 year old man being hit by a car… I think they mentioned Connecticut/USA. Many people saw the accident and either walked away or watched the old man lying on the street. Nobody helped, no car stopped until a police car arrived. Why do I mention this? Not sure, may be it has something to do with kindness, boundless kindness, as you say… if it’s picking up a piece of rubbish or lending an ear or giving up a seat in the bus or helping an injured man in the street… may be it takes courage to be kind…may be it takes courage to take the lead..but more than anything, I guess, it takes awareness of who this man really is. Who is he? To whom do the bells toll? Boundless kindness comes with boundless awareness and boundless awareness comes with boundless awakening. And breathing… breathing… breathing. Yes, breathing is so important, kind, gentle breathing. One breath at a time. No force. Being kind to oneself too.

  4. @Arne
    Your comment brought me to tears, Arne.

    What you write is so richly felt and deeply experienced.

    What a poignant story of the man who lay dieing in the road without anyone taking notice!

    Thats it, isn’t it – even just to notice is a kindness. And when we truly notice without denial we instinctively respond with action.

  5. Shona says:

    Often we believe that to do this meditation properly we must virtually be saints who have put their own lives on hold for the wellbeing of others. But the truth is that we can radiate this care and love at any time. Whilst preparing to eat our evening meal we can radiate the wish that all beings have enough to eat this day. Whilst relaxing in bed before sleep we can radiate the wish that all beings in fear or pain find great ease. Whilst dealing with a difficult situation we can afterwards radiate the wish that anger may be turned to gentleness and love. There are so many opportunities in the day to sense and encounter suffering and to radiate joy and love to all beings who may be suffering in similar ways.
    Such is the joy that this meditation can bring to the practitioner that it is quite humbling and can move our heart in very real and deep ways.

  6. Hi Mary Jaksch,
    thanks for the google group! It’s really one act of kindness that you started =)
    Watching Evan Almighty, there is a term given for it..
    Act of Random Kindness…
    it’s the small things, the random kindness we can do in every day lives..

    Robert

    Robert Henrus last blog post..How failures can make you smile

  7. @Shona
    I love the way you list the little ways to radiate boundless kindness! It’s possible for each one of us – it’s important to rembember that.

    ‘Boundless kindness’ also implies that kindness doesn’t come in small packages – it has no edge! Even the smallest gesture, smile or kind word is without boundary.

  8. I often witness people speaking about all the troubles and problems of the world. And they are right, all of which they speak exists. But I must say, it’s much easier to lament about the worlds problems than to take a good look in the mirror and ask: “how can I become a better person towards my fellow man?”

    So many things that we may not even think about… Such as, not getting angry when standing in line at the grocery store. I don’t know about you, but people generally get uncomfortable around irritated people. The list could go on and on. So sometimes, I think people — including myself — should spend a little more time asking how they can change, instead of only lamenting about the nature of the world. Change begins with the individual!

  9. Roy says:

    I thought of adding what author E.B. White mused, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” However, as seekers of peace, we are encouraged to find a balance in our daily lives between saving and savoring the world. These are not opposite choices, but part of God’s plan whereby the spiritual renewal inpsires us to both enjoy God’s creation and work to restore it to peace and wholeness.

  10. Eric says:

    I really like the Metta Sutra meditation. It is non-ego centered and inspiring. I will print it out and post somewhere in my home. Thanks very much!

  11. @Robert Henru
    Thank you, Robert! I really like bringing people together and facilitating thoughtful discussions. That’s what I love at GoodlifeZen!

    @Bamboo Forest
    I agree, we can only change ourself. I find that quite heartening. Because it means that we can actually do something and not just stand by.
    Thank you for you lovely list of what we could do.

  12. @Roy
    That’s lovely, Roy: “Finding a balance between saving and savouring.”

    It seems to me that the more we live with kindness, the more we can actually savour the moment. Because we can only savour something when we are present, as opposed to preoccupied.

    @Eric
    I’m glad you like it, Eric. I think it’s a treasure trove.

  13. We use a practice called ‘Maitri Bhavna’ – ‘Feeling Friendship’ at end of meditation. It about befriending every living being and send love to all, wish well to all.

  14. sarah says:

    As I read about this meditation my first thought was that I didn’t feel kind enough today to practice a loving kindness meditation.

    This practice doesn’t ask that I be anything only that I practice. So I took a few breaths just now breathing out kindness despite my crabby self.

    Of course I now feel less and am less crabby. Thanks for the reminder.

  15. @Avani Mehta
    The meditation you practise is a close cousin to the Boundless Kindness meditation. ‘Maitri’ means ‘Loving-kindess’ in Sanskrit (one of the ancient Buddhist languages).

  16. @Sarah
    How lovely, this meditation is obviously working for you!
    You make an important point, namely that this meditation asks nothing of us, just that we practise.

  17. @Everyone
    I’ve just come back from a workshop retreat that I co-led with the title “Opening the Wellspring of Kindness”. In this retreat I introduced the Boundless Kindness meditation.

    I have to say that the response was mixed. For some it was the most wonderful experience. One participant said, “It’s like sinking into a warm bath on a cold day.”

    However, some participants had difficulties with it. They fared better with a simple loving-kindness meditation: saying silently “May I be at ease” on the outbreath.

    Normally, that’s how one starts practising loving-kindness meditation. The Boundless Kindness meditation is really an advanced practice.

    Quite simply, try the Boundless Kindness meditation. If it comes naturally and feels good, then do it. Otherwise try: “May I be at ease.”

  18. Thanks for the informative post.. and thanks for adding our comment to the blog. I am subscribing to your feed so I don\’t miss the next post!

  19. Ron Towns says:

    I use mediation every single to relax and prepare my subconscious mind to soak in my visions of a better lifestyle. However, I feel like I only slip into the “trance” for a brief moment. How do I stay in this moment for longer?

    Another method I’ve been using lately is visualization with vision boards. Have you ever heard of them? They are images pasted on a board that represents your hopes, dreams, and goals. Studying these boards every days plants seeds of these goals within your subconscious mind.

    Your subconscious mind is where all of habits are formed. Combine these visualizations with mediation and affirmations, and the seed in your subconscious mind will begin to grow, sprouting a newly developed habit that is oriented towards your desired outcome, or goal.

    John Assaraf does a better job of explaining this and showing you how to do it in his new book “The Complete Vision Board Kit.” I downloaded the free chapter here: http://tinyurl.com/56mfen

  20. nora says:

    well i think that kindness is awide bright sea in adark spot of life. the one who feels that life is useless and wants to see anew light or anew heart, he simply can recreate the value of himself and abolish that killing feeling by the ”eye of mercy” .as it is known that our eyes only are connected with reality but the one can wonder about the meaning of eye of mercy . it simply the integration of the imprisoned pains inside your body as arust of the past and the preparation of all your ogans and the flow of blood just like printing paper and then at last eyes will work as atranslator or as amirror of all these spiritual feelings.so i think that man has asmall life inside him inside that big life which is the universe…..

  21. Monika says:

    This is one of the best articles on here I’ve read!

  22. I just read this article and I like it, It’s very inspiring. Thank you very much, Gob bless you

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