Mindfulness Activity #143
Loving Kindness Series Day 13
Good Morning. We are exploring the many reasons for practicing loving kindness. Research has found that loving kindness practices increase empathy and compassion for other people and also increase feelings of social connection to others. I think that for many of us, it is easy to feel compassion for others these days whom we perceive to be suffering. Many, many people have shared their suffering in this past year: victims of sexual abuse or harassment coined @me too and posted their personal stories; we have seen people suffer directly and indirectly from the effects of COVID-19; we have seen racism play out on our televisions. We are actually hard-wired to respond to the suffering of others that we see, especially when we see people as blameless for their suffering.
However, empathy and compassion gets much, much harder when we try to have compassion for the individuals that we blame. In Buddhist teaching, those who are unenlightened are perhaps most deserving of compassion because they are most in need of transformation.
I have never liked bullies. Once in second grade, a girl in my class was bullying another girl. I jumped in and verbally eviscerated the bully and then spun her on a merry-go round so fast she couldn’t get off. I was very proud of myself. I felt justified. When I was caught by the teacher and the merry go round stopped, I saw that the girl was sobbing. I kind of felt nothing. My thoughts and judgments about her (she was mean) impaired my ability to feel any kindness or warmth for her. This kept her isolated and disconnected.
(USE CLINICAL JUDGMENT AND OMIT THE FOLLOWING CLIP IF PRESENTING WITH PATIENTS FOR WHOM THIS NEXT PART COULD BE TRIGGERING). If you have an extra three minutes today, watch this clip by Aaron Stark, the man who wrote an op-ed piece called “I was Almost a School Shooter.”
Stark describes how an act of compassion by a girl and her family that he didn’t even know well convinced him to abandon his plan for violence and suicide and to choose life instead. Today he is a happily married father and a mental health advocate. Compassion for self and others is essential for change, but judgment often gets in the way.
At the point in loving kindness when you are asked to consider a difficult person, judgment often arises. The Metta practice does not ask you to accept their actions, just to feel compassion for them and to wish them energy to become more open and enlightened. The renowned mindfulness teacher Sharon Salzberg explains it this way. “To send loving-kindness does not mean that we approve or condone all actions, it means that we can see clearly actions that are incorrect or unskillful and still not lose the connection.”
For Today’s Practice, click the following link. Pay particular attention to nonjudgmental compassion when thinking of a difficult person in this practice.