Think for a moment about your best friend and all the reasons you cherish him or her. Now, imagine that person suffering. What would you do to alleviate their pain? Pretty much anything in your power, right? What about your neighbor? To what lengths would you be willing to go to alleviate their suffering? How about a complete stranger? What action would you take on their behalf? And finally, think of a person who has harmed you: are you willing to help them discover happiness?
These questions are the opening to the practice of cultivating love. I must stress that I'm calling this a practice because that is exactly what it is. Just like an athlete doesn't win an Olympic gold medal the first time they attempt the high jump, you aren't going to wake up enlightened tomorrow after reading this article. Like any strength, you have to dedicate yourself to the practice of loving, and sometimes it is really difficult.
I began this practice back in 2006 when I bought the book, "How to Expand Love," by the Dalai Lama. After a divorce in 2005 that left my faith in love shaken, I thought this book was going to be a self-help tool for my personal recovery. I was terribly disappointed to find it was mostly about meditation. At the time, I wasn't a big fan of sitting still and thinking about nothing. (I just actually laughed out loud as I typed this, because for many years now, my daily routine involves at least 45 cherished minutes of meditation time.) Right now, you are probably thinking what I thought back then: "How will meditating on love help me deal with loss?" The simple truth is that it builds your courage, determination and compassion.
You are already really good at loving your friends, and probably your neighbor, too so I'd like to focus on cultivating love for those who are suffering and those who have harmed or taken advantage of you. By focusing your efforts on a more challenging task, you'll see greater results. This is a practice, one you'll have to commit to daily, while also forgiving yourself when you suffer from the human condition. (Which is 100% of the time.)
One of the best places to start developing compassion for those who suffer, is from the place of your own suffering. Do whatever you must to get comfortable and quiet, then meditate for five minutes. Write this thought down on a piece of paper and hold in your hands (and heart) as you meditate on it:
"(This person/group) is suffering terribly and I understand the way it affects their well-being, health, relationships and stability. My own adversity acts as a substitute for their pain. I know they wish to feel happiness and a sense of belonging, as I do. I wish for them a complete release of suffering and all that it causes, and I commit being a source of help and happiness for them. I will increase my ability to love for their sake."
The same meditation applies for those who have harmed you. Before you allow anger to creep up on you and take over, try viewing them as a human being, suffering from the human condition, knowing they, like you, wish to be happy. Yes, this is incredibly difficult. However, the payoff is all for you. If you keep practicing this you will, over time, find yourself less reactive to situations and people. You will find courage to stand in a space of loving firmness when someone takes advantage of you. And most importantly, you will develop an all-pervasive sense of compassion for every sentient being.
This practice has helped me let go of difficult people and situations much faster than I otherwise would have. Instead of holding on to the pain, or imagining the ways you are going to avenge wrongdoing, imagine looking upon the person who has hurt you and having the thought: "Oh, there she/he is, being human again."
Meditation is a time and space you create to rewire thought patterns. As you cultivate love for others, you are increasing the joy, peace and happiness in your own life.
Have you ever given yourself the hug test?
The next time you find yourself in an embrace with anyone, notice where your intention is. Are you giving them your love? Or are you receiving it? Of course, it's possible to do both, but you might be surprised if you actually pay attention next time. Love must be nourished, cultivated daily and whether or not we are subconsciously giving can help us see where we might want change to create more love around us.
©Mollie Morning Star 2014 Short excerpts of this article may be shared on the internet provided a live link back to this original source is used. Reproduction in print is prohibited.