10 Ways to Deepen Your Loving-Kindness Practice
Softening and opening your heart to others will change your life. In this excerpt from her book Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation, leading meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg provides 10 simple tips for cultivating a loving-kindness practice, on and off the meditation cushion.
- Think of kindness as a strength, not as a weakness. Kindness isn’t an ally of foolishness or gullibility, but rather an ally of wisdom and courage.
- Look for the good in yourself—not as a way to deny your difficulties or problems but as a way to broaden your outlook so it’s more truthful and balanced. Looking for the good in ourselves helps us see the good in others.
- Remember that everyone wants to be happy. If we look deeply into any kind of behavior, we will see an urge to feel a part of something greater than our own limited sense of self, a desire to feel at home in this body and mind. This urge toward happiness is often twisted and distorted by ignorance, by not knowing where happiness is actually to be found. Remembering what we share inspires us toward kindness.
- Recollect those who have helped or inspired us. Sometimes even a small act of kindness on someone’s part makes an essential difference for us. Cultivating gratitude is a way of honoring these people, and also a way of lifting our spirits and reminding us of the power of good-heartedness.
- Practice at least one act of generosity a day. We all have something to give, large or small. It may be a smile, or an attentive conversation. Perhaps you let a stranger get ahead of you in line, or gave a coworker a small gift, or wrote a late-night note of appreciation. Any act of generosity—whether material or of the spirit—is a meaningful expression of kindness.
- Do loving-kindness meditation. Each day we can take the time to hold others in our hearts quietly and wish them well. This meditation might include someone who has been helpful or inspiring to us, someone we know who is feeling alone or afraid, someone who is experiencing triumph and joy, or someone we are about to meet with some trepidation. We might, depending on the circumstances of our lives, particularly include children or animals in our thoughts. Taking just 10 minutes a day to reflect in this way is a powerful path to transformation.
- Listen. Often we have conversations where we are only partially paying attention; we’re thinking about the next e-mail we need to send, or what we forgot to mention to the last person we spoke to. Or we decide we know what the other person is going to say, based on past encounters. Reopening that closed file by listening is a powerful gesture of kindness, one that allows fresh responses and transformed relationships.
- Include those who seem left out. In a conversation with a group of people, there may be those too shy to speak. In a room full of partygoers, there may be some who feel out of place. Be the one who opens the circle.
- Refrain from speaking ill of others. A friend told me about a time he resolved not to talk about any third person; if he had something to say about someone, he would say it directly to that person instead. If you feel tempted to put someone down, assume knowledge of their bad motives, or generally prove their inferiority, take a breath. Even though we might feel a rush of power in saying those words, we ultimately get no benefit from dividing people and sowing seeds of dissension and dislike. There are ways to talk about wrong behavior without derision or condemnation.
- “Walk a mile in another person’s shoes before you pass judgment.” As this old saying suggests, even if we’re going to take strong action to try to change someone’s behavior, a sense of empathy and understanding for them won’t weaken us. If anything, that element of kindness will allow us to act more compassionately and creatively.