Compassion Practice: Give Yourself Permission to Feel How You Feel

In times like these, it takes A LOT of strength to give oneself permission to feel safe and okay, especially when almost all of the information that you are taking in about the world around you can strongly contradict that very real need.

It takes A LOT of resilience to watch yourself and your loved ones, your community, have its routines and norms stripped away, without being given a lot of guidance to know what exactly to do to respond, or in which direction to turn that will support your health and well-being.

Sometimes having the resources to meet with the current moment might seem like an impossible task, especially when so many have lost so much in such a short period of time. Let me just say that I am RIGHT THERE WITH YOU.

I wrote this short letter because I know from my mindfulness practice how much the judgmental mind can arise, especially when it seems like nothing is going “right”. Stop for a moment. Are you experiencing judgmental thoughts about how you are handling this COVID experience, right now?

For mindful tips on how to give yourself permission to skillfully navigate whatever feelings might be arising in your body right now – which might open up the possibility of moving towards feeling safe and okay, even if just for a moment – please keep reading on!

Sometimes, it is helpful to have permission to do whatever it is that helps you feel like you are expressing yourself authentically and making your needs known. You might feel strong one minute and weak the next. You might be full of ideas and then be at a loss for words two seconds later. However your process is manifesting right now, there is no wrong or right to this – only doing your very best to accept and acknowledge whatever your process looks like with as much compassion as humanly possible.

Here are a few mindful tips on practicing compassionate acceptance:

1.) Try to notice when you are judging your own process and comparing it to the ways in which other people are handling this experience. Noticing how judgmental thoughts arise in relation to other peoples processes can be called “comparing mind” in the mindfulness tradition. Comparing mind looks like those thoughts that might arise around how much more or less another person has, in terms of resources or capacity to get through this current challenge. When comparing mind arises, you can simply take a deep breath and say to yourself “comparing…comparing…” so gradually you build awareness of when this is arising for you. That is a first very simple step towards acceptance.

Remember, it is okay that your mind is judging and comparing – that is a part of what is has been built to do to keep you safe! Just noticing when it is happening is a positive start.

2.) So you have begun to gently notice your own comparing mind in action. Now what? One great antidote to comparing mind is a self-compassion practice. Where ever you are, try closing the eyes or lowering the eyelids so you are taking in your surroundings with what is called a “soft gaze”. Try to take 3 deep, slow breaths, and bring your attention to your breath in whatever way feels comfortable.

For some people that will mean focusing on the nostrils. For others, the chest or belly rising and falling. Now bring into your imagination a person, place, animal, or object that you associate with love and calm. Imagine they are right next to you. This is a your safe space!! Notice how the way you are carrying your body might become different when you are in your safe place.

If it feels compassionate, you can try saying to yourself “This is my safe space…This is my safe place…” as many times as you need until you move from saying it – to feeling it! You will know you are feeling it because you will notice slight changes in how relaxed you can hold your body in the moment.

3.) Now that you are either in, or somewhere near your safe space internally…bring person, place, animal, or object you associate with love and calm even closer to you. Try to notice whether the “comparing mind” is still active. Taking three more deep, slow breaths, and try to notice in your imagination a little more about the colors, sounds, textures, or even smells that you associate with your safe space. Now try bringing in the compassion phrases we just learned, and bring a little more attention to your body if that feels okay. If it feel overwhelming to bring more attention to the body, then just rest in the mental part of the practices.

Where ever you are sitting or standing, do you notice any differences in your the way you are carrying your body – in your bones or muscles – while you are exploring the ‘contours’ of your safe space? Perhaps you might notice that your shoulders start to shift, or the muscles of your face soften. Any amount of relaxation or felt spaciousness you can bring to the body right now is good for your health and well-being.

Once you have finished with this compassion practice, it might be helpful to turn to your journal (or to start one if you haven’t already!) and write down what you noticed. See if you can make the time to practice this for even 1-2 minuets a day, whenever you start to feel overwhelmed by judgmental thoughts.

By writing about your experience with how your thoughts shift when you do this practice, you might be able to start to tell the story of your journey back towards feelings of safety and peace…which will be helpful for you to be able to return to as something of a roadmap of your experience during these challenging times that you can use to remind yourself of how important it is to remain connected to your internal safe place/place, no matter what is happening around you.

Mindful Tips For Coping With Impatience During COVID-19

In my personal mindfulness practice, I often find the sensation of impatience arising in my mind and body. This was certainly truly before COVID-19, and it is perhaps more true now than ever. What with so much of our “to-do’s” being forcibly taken away – having to work from home if we are fortunate (and with kids that we have to figure out how to home school now, no less) – and the general pace of life slowing down as we all do our very best to practice social distancing (PLEASE!!!), I am certain that for many of us, feelings of “when will this all be over?!” might be coming on really strong right now!

These feelings might be intensely unpleasant. You might feel tightness or tension developing in different places in your body just thinking of how long this whole situation might last for. Indeed – I think that part of what brings up anxiety combined with incredible impatience is the total unknown regarding the global impact of what we are all now facing.

You might also be under a great deal of stress right now as you navigate all of the immense changes that have been asked of us as a society – and the loss of so much of what made life convenient, comfortable, or just plain workable to some degree.

I feel you 100 percent!! There is absolutely nothing easy about what we are going through. This is going to require a lot of strength, ingenuity, resilience, and compassion to make it through to the other side.

Whereas this may or may not be reassuring to you – feelings of impatience can be a phenomenal opportunity to practice mindfulness in a way that truly supports resilience and adaptability.

Let me start out with a few quick tips for coping with impatience in this here and now…

1.) When impatient thoughts arise in the mind, ask yourself, “what are the accompanying feelings/sensations in my body?” Trying stopping where you are and taking a few deep breaths. Using the mind to scan the body (as in, imagine that you are literally traveling though every part of your body one section at a time), try to compassionately notice places of tension and tightness.

See if you can, while breathing slowly, allow these places to relax a little bit. As you relax the body, does the intensity of your thoughts or feelings of impatience shift or change?

2.) What is the underlying tone of your thoughts when you are feeling impatient? Is worry, anger, confusion, sadness, or pain also in the background? Whatever you are experiencing, please know that this is a perfectly intelligent response to the times we are living in. You are NOT weak, you are beautifully human.

Whatever your answer, ask yourself, “what is in my control in this moment?” Do you every best in the moment to identify what is totally out of your control…and then once you have identified what IS in your control, acknowledge whatever emotions are coming up. Then ask yourself, “In what way can I respond to my situation, or can I ask for support in responding to what is causing me to feel impatient, that would feel empowering or compassionate right now?”

3.) Remember – impatience itself is not a problem. It is not a weakness. It is not a sign that you are losing it. It is a perfectly normal, intelligent response to the way as humans, we sometimes feel out of control, disoriented, or even just plain bored.

Try watching the feeling of being impatient with an attitude of curiosity, almost like you are watching your thoughts intently like a TV show…and do your best to watch what happens. Remember, you are NOT your thoughts – your thoughts and even your emotions are just like clouds – weather passing by in the sky. If you can practice being the observer of your impatience thoughts, and whatever emotions might accompany them, you may be surprised at the kind of creativity that can arise in these moments!!!

Before my mindfulness practice, the feeling of impatience would arise and it would feel unbearable. It was like something deep inside of me was calling for me to just DO SOMETHING already with the moment at hand. I felt like I had to take action immediately to relieve the haunting feeling of boredom or just plain painful antsiness that was welling up inside of my chest, causing my legs to shake and my temples to throb.

These feelings can really become exacerbated during times when what is happening around us makes us go into a “scarcity mindset.” The scarcity mindset tells us that there is not going to be enough resources around to help sustain us in living our lives. And that is most certainly endemic to the narrative that is being produced in the media right now…we hear all day every day about what goods and services are running out – who is hoarding what – and who is needlessly suffering because of a lack of what is needed like food and protective gear, and all of that information can make us start to feel helpless…and particularly impatient for this to just be over with!

I am here to tell you right now that being impatient is perfectly understandable. I think we all want this to be over far sooner than later. However, we also have to be able to build the capacity to cope with exactly “what is” right now without running away from it in denial.

This is no easy feat, especially when so much of what we care about seems to be at stake. Building the resilience needed to cope with “what is” can give us the clarity and insight we need to move forward responsibly and with the diligence needed to assess where the greatest needs are, and what resources we might not have previously considered that we have that can help us heal and move forward bit by bit.

For instance, if you are a person who has not been affected by COVID-19 financially, perhaps you have a little more bandwith than others right now to see where you might be able to allocate resources in time, money, or talent to help ease some suffering. If you are a person who has a hobby or a skill that can help out in some way – like sewing clothing, cooking, building things, or maybe you work in the wellness industry and you know a lot about different healing modalities – we can get clever about considering how to teach others our skills online, in ways that might help to alleviate suffering and keep each other feeling connected and/or useful during this time.

Getting creative about how to offer your talents to the world virtually is an amazing way to promote community connections and to counter feelings of impatience when they arise. In other words, its all about making yourself as useful as possible to society right now!!

If you are a person who doesn’t have a lot of time on your hands to consider how you might be able to teach certain skills to others because you are in survival mode, then you are in a different boat altogether. In this case, during your moments of impatience, consider again the tip I wrote about above – taking the time to consider what emotions are arising in your body in the background of your impatience, and what needs those emotions are pointing to. It may even be helpful to write a list or journal about it, so you can get your thoughts in order.

Once you have what is making you feel the most impatient down on paper, I invite you to actively consider ways that you can reach out to community and make those needs known. For those of us with the gift of time and talent or other resources on our hands, we might be uniquely positioned to lend a helping hand right now. Sometimes, being proactive is truly the best counter to feelings of impatience, because you know you are taking an empowered step towards creating solutions that will help you thrive in the long run.

No matter what you decide to do, before you “do” anything, remember to check in with your body and your breath when you are feeling impatient. Remember to ask yourself compassionately – where are the places where I am holding my tension? Is your belly feeling extra tight? Are your shoulders hunched over, or tightened towards your neck? Are the muscles of your face squeezing or holding stress patterns?

However your impatience might present itself to you, your body is ultimately telling you a powerful story about what you need to feel whole. Please gently remind yourself to do your best to slow down in the moment…take a few deep breaths, and invite those places of the body to relax as much as they are able. It is truly in the spaciousness of our connection to own breath that we have the power to create inside of ourselves the healing that our entire society is waiting for!

And then, once you know what you need, or have to offer, reach out to the world and tell us what you’ve got to share – as a potent act of love and empowerment that is a gift to the world!!

Thank You For Being Here!! Thoughts on Gratitude During COVID-19

“THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE!!!”

These are the words that I keep hearing spoken around me, again and again, when ever I leave my house to grab some groceries or other necessary items. I keep on catching people looking at grocers, Lyft drivers, delivery people, Fedex and USPS drivers, pharmacists, you name it – in the eye – and saying with so much genuine gratitude: “Thank you for being here!!”

Can you imagine what kind of society we would live in if we treated the many hundreds, or even thousands of people who help our lives to function smoothly with this amount of kindness and compassion?

Now…I have some thoughts on why I am seeing this phenomenon at work. I think that there is this growing recognition in our society that every single person you see who has shown up to work to help us get the essentials we all need to survive – did so at their own peril. They showed up to work as a powerful act of love – love for the families and communities they support, all the while risking their health and well-being.

So when I hear random folks expressing extra gratitude, it causes my heart to swell immensely with joy at this powerful recognition of our interconnectedness. Interconnectedness is another word for interdependence – a word that is often brought up in mindfulness circles because it defines the manner in which every single sentient being is so deeply and inextricably connected to each other on this precious planet of ours.

We can see now more than ever how what happens seemingly across the planet, thousands of miles away, has an immediate impact on our community life, and our ability to experience well-being. This moment in time is such a powerful teachable moment, if we can lean into our capacity to learn from everything that is arising in the chaos.

I will admit, it took me a few weeks to even begin to wrap my mind around the massive collective chaos we have been experiencing as a global community. I went through so many different emotions all at once…fear, rage, sorrow, anger, depression, confusion, numbness, and intense grief!!!

I truly did not know what to post there for a minute. So yesterday, I took a shot at showing up on IG – rather imperfectly – and posted a video I took of the beautiful trees blossoming here in Portland, and a silly conversation had between me and my daughter…because these are the little things that are keeping my head held high right now.

I am noticing more than ever the power of the beauty of nature to capture my imagination. I am feeling deeply into the ways in which we can support one another and our capacity to live long and healthy lives, by practicing each and every day behaviors that support the collective community – especially those of us who are the most vulnerable because of the inequalities that have been baked so deeply into our society for hundreds of years.

Really and truly, I wonder what my life would be like, and how I would treat my fellow Earth-beings if every time I saw someone, or an animal, or plant, I thought to myself “Thank you for being here!!” and meant it with my whole heart. This is my North Star right now. Because I am utterly thankful to exist right now. I am overwhelmed with how amazing it is to have a body that functions, that can take to the places I need to get to with limbs that can walk and run and dance freely. With each breath I take, I am asking myself what I might have been taking for granted before this COVID-19 experience took hold of the planet. There is a lot!

I have taken for granted, on many different levels, the many many individuals upon whom I am totally dependent for my survival, for one thing. And that really is the underlying message of the “Science of Social Justice” that I hope to continue to explore as it keeps taking shape alongside of the intense changes this world is going through…that social justice and well-being are one and the same thing!! They are truly two sides of the same coin. We cannot have well-being for some, and not for others. That the health of our bodies and communities and nations are one and the same thing. I get the feeling that perhaps now more than ever, this message is truly pertinent to the times we are living in.

Phenomenal art my “Mystic Mama” (my favorite astrolger ever!!!): www.mysticmama.com

Meditation Watercolor

The Science of Social Justice

Here at MindHeart, well-being and social justice are one and the same – one cannot exist without the other! We cannot effectively work towards social justice in our communities without taking care of our hearts, minds, and bodies, and vice versa.

We are inspired by the idea that the mind and the heart are one and the same – so we lean into the power of contemplative practices that have been cultivated with the intention of strengthening the heartmind connection whenever we create workshops or experiences that are meant to be supportive of social justice in our communities.

In other words, Social Justice is both a biopsychosocial and spiritual phenomenon – so all of our efforts here at MindHeart to support the social justice movement attend holistically to the how the body, mind, and community are impacted by intersectional forms of harm and inequality, and lean into embodied and contemplative wisdom to help guide clients through their unique process of creating greater healing, safety, loving-kindness and compassionate presence in their communities.

The Science of Social Justice, as developed by Dr. Sará King, is the study of the intersectional impact of the psychological (mental), embodied (physiological), and relational (relationship-based) trauma that has resulted from centuries of systemic and institutionalized oppression here in the local US context as well as that which has been perpetuated through colonialism and imperialism on a global and international level.

The Science of Social Justice is an integral part of how all of our research projects, workshops, seminars, and curriculums are framed.

The Science of Social Justice is a way of both studying (researching) and teaching (facilitating) that is informed by an interdisciplinary framework that merges political science, ethnic studies, feminist and queer studies, interpersonal neurobiology, cognitive and affective neuroscience, psychology, socio-linguistics, and public health.

In all of MindHeart’s research projects, seminars, or one-on-one sessions, there are two central questions that guide the experience we co create- “What is the issue of social justice that is  impacting a person, group, or community?” We know that there is a social, psychological, and biological answer to this! We then want to investigate “How can the Science of Well-Being be put to the service of Social Justice?” and blend this seamlessling into how we frame the project or workshop that we co-create together.

It is important to note that when the Science of Social Justice and the Science of Well-Being are put in conversation with one another, they describe how identity (race, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) and the trauma of discrimination and marginalization interact in an intersectional fashion with one another – and how these impact well-being.

These traumas, as they are experienced and processed through the body, are embodied as well as they are relational. This means that the pain of discrimination and marginalization lives both within the emotional, psychological and physical bodies of individuals, but it also is experienced within the realm of interpersonal relationships and communities.

All of our embodied healing practices are informed by our constantly evolving understanding about the particular needs of POC, indigenous communties and their allies, and how their lives are impacted by mental, emotional, and physical health disparities.

The contemplative and healing practices that are offered in the context of MindHeart curriculums and workshops are explicitly meant to address issues that are at the heart of trauma and social justice. They are framed and designed to assist people with healing who are either working in the field of social justice (environmental justice; food justice; racial justice; justice for the LGBTQI community, etc) and who therefore are navigating the embodied impact of helping those who are experiencing marginalization – or for those who are currently experiencing marginalization themselves.

Here at MindHeart, we believe that the only way for healing justice to occur is for us to serve those who have put their lives at the service of social justice, as well as those who are navigating the lived experience of inequality.

We support the creation of safe spaces of empowerment where people can cultivate and experience loving-kindness and self-compassion – and by extension, we hope that these energetic qualities will positively shift the way they work and live, for the benefit of their entire community!

Community Partner: Aura of Healing Vybes

Dear ones,
As you may know, part of the mission of MindHeart Collective is to share the stories of empowered WOC who are advancing the field of wellness + social justice in their own gifted and magical ways. When WOC healers and practitioners offer their skills and services to communities of color, that IS the essence of what I mean when I say that well-being and social justice are one and the same!

Today, I am so grateful to be sharing a quote as well as a personal story about my experience with the ‘Yoni Egg Journey” led by my sistar-in-healing Aura of Healing Vybes (seen in the photo above) from right here in sunny southern California! Please follow her at @infinite_aura_ on IG to watch and be inspired by this amazing woman’s journey as a healer and change-maker in her community!!

“Peace and abundance!  I’m Aura, a holistic wellness empowerment coach based in Los Angeles, California.

Creatress of The Yoni Egg Journey, an experience for women to engage with self love, sensuality, spirituality and sexuality in sisterhood.  I am a certified yoga instructor, crystal healer, She Stands Tall circle facilitator, and women’s empowerment guide. I love all things women based, especially when it includes healing, crystals and connections.

I have 5 years experience working with and healing parts of my being with yoni eggs. This practice has helped me heal sexual, emotional and energetic trauma that I was carrying within my body. It allowed me to understand and access my body in new ways, find my voice + speak my truth, and hold space for my energetic alignment while being in an intimate partnership.

Yoni eggs also guided me in harnessing my sexual and creative power. I believe as we heal, our planet heals, along with the future generations we will birth from our wombs

I enjoy studying a wide range of topics including astrology, subtle body energies, women’s spirituality, womb healing, crystals, tantra and yin-yang balance. In my free time, you can find me naked in the sun, traveling to exotic lands, or hiding out in my goddess cave. I am a lifetime student, meditator, yogini, teacher, and overall, infinite being!”

 

Isn’t she a sparkling rainbow of love and light, ya’ll? I absolutely love the open-hearted energy and vibrance that she brings with her into everything that she does!!

I must say, my experience getting to know Aura in her capacity as a healer was truly transformative. I joined in the most “Yoni Egg Journey” during the months of February and March, that Aura skillfully led for a variety of deeply personal and spiritual reasons – but I would say that first and foremost, I had come to a realization that this point in my life, I have never experienced a community space that is dedicated to women coming together to explore the health of their womb and all of the many ways in which it is connected to our relationships and how we navigate in the world as healthy, whole, empowered beings living out our truth.

The curriculum that she established was an educative blend of readings about womb health, sacred sexuality, and embodied healing modalities from a variety of different WOC/indigenous traditions (along with a healthy dose of readings from what is one of my favorite books of ALL time “Women Who Run With Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.)

Alongside the readings, Aura combined stunning artwork, inspirational quotes, and videos of herself guiding us through a variety of breathwork and mudra practices, along with her advice on how to amplifying our self-knowledge through self-study of how our emotional, psychological, and physical states tend to arise in a cyclical nature alongside the situations and relationships that we are navigating both personally and professionally in life.

However, the part of the Yoni Egg Journey that I found to be the most supportive (alongside the instructions about, of course, how to establish a spiritual connection and relationship to our yoni-eggs as supports for our healing journey), was the community of WOC that embraced one another along the journey. Though I had not met any of these lovely women in person, one a week we would get together and share with great honesty and vulnerability the parts of our lives that we were currently growing and navigating through – sometimes with great emotional challenge, and at other times rising triumphantly to new points of achievement and satisfaction.

We began to uncover how the present day stories of our lives were deeply connected to intergenerational and ancestral traumas that we held deep within our tissues and our unconscious ways of being. We were able to take in one another’s stories mindfully and with curiosity. We were able to talk with candor about the places we felt stuck and alone or out to drift without a clear plan in heart or mind. We were able to help one another decipher were old places of pain had fooled us into believing we were without the power to make change, and to encourage each other to open up to the discomfort of life as the necessary fire that forges us into empowered beings.

Let me be frank…In today’s modern society, there is so much temptation to be a casual bystander as women are encouraged to tear each other down for economic gain. Misogyny and thousands of years of patriarchy have taught some of us to behave like competitors with one another – exercising an ideology of power-over, rather than power-with, thus betraying our natural instinct to lean into our phenomenal collective healing power. There are countless messages being propogated by the media and our governing institutions that prize violence, terror, and endless divisiveness along the lines of class, race, religion and sexual orientation – especially amongst and between women, driving home the lie that resources like love and community wealth are scarce and thus can only be reserved for a special few.

So it was incredibly refreshing and rejuvenating to me to be a part of the Yoni Egg Journey – a community of women seeking to uplift one another in raw, honest, messy, unpredictable, but altogether joyous and profound healing. These are the kinds of circles and gathering that we need as a society to mend the egoic rifts that are tearing us all apart!! Thank you, Aura, for demonstrating what it means to be a loving-leader and showing the way for what is sure to be countless other young African-American women who will be inspired to walk the path of the healer like yourself!!

Sara King - Yoga

Life Is the Medicine Bowl: A Reflection on Metta

When I originally heard the word “metta”, I was attending my very first ten-day meditation retreat at Spirit Rock, an Insight meditation center in the gorgeous hills of Woodacre, California, a few years ago.

 

If you will, imagine a scene where the lyrics to Sting’s song “Fields of Gold” veritably springs to life amidst rolling hills of long grasses, copious amounts of majestic oak trees, and a smattering of wild turkeys that amble comfortably between two large wooden meditation halls, and you will get some sense of my surroundings.

 

The word metta was explained to all of us in attendance by one of the resident meditation teachers during an afternoon dharma talk. Metta, they explained, can be translated from the Pali language into “loving-kindness”.

 

I immediately assumed in that moment that this word was describing something that I had already experienced in terms of the depth of its flavor. “I’ve got this!” I thought to myself.

 

After all, I had already, by the age of 29 (when I was attending this particular retreat) fallen deeply in love; felt love grow from a drop into an oceanic swell; fallen catastrophically out of love and then wallowed in the sticky mire of heartache which followed; struggled and wrestled with thinking I wanted and needed love; desired and deserved love…ached, whined, pondered, analyzed, and spun totally out of control with aversion to the idea that I would never find “my one true love”.

 

These experiences, I thought, should be more than enough to “know” something about love, I reasoned to myself.

 

However, I was soon to discover that the word “metta” and the meditation practice associated with cultivating the experience of loving-kindness in one’s heart (rather than the mental concept of love) was far more complex than I had imagined.

 

Indeed, I was to find that the experience of directing loving-kindness towards myself was initially very challenging for to me to truly feel as a meditation practitioner, even though I had been practicing mindfulness meditation for 7 years at that point.

 

I was comforted to find that other people in the meditation hall, when we broke the noble silence of the retreat to ask questions of the dharma teachers, felt similarly as I did.

 

In all honesty, I had spent the first couple decades of my life being not altogether kind or compassionate towards myself, in my heart-mind. I had been, prior to starting my meditation practice in 2006, pretty quick to judge myself as inadequate; too weak; overly forceful; strange; too boring; not good enough; not skillful enough; not wealthy enough; strong enough; smart enough…and on and on.

 

The very good thing is that after starting my meditation practice, I was finally able to become aware of these thoughts, and started to develop the ability to see that my thoughts, especially the negative ones, were not actually “who I was.”

 

Perhaps one could say that some of these judgmental thoughts came from cultural conditioning. After all, we live in a society that constantly tries to sell us on the idea of obtaining perfection.

 

But whatever the source of these thoughts, the silver lining of noticing them was that when I began to practice Vipassana, I learned that the mind has a strong inclination to suffer (and to find an endless well of resources to replenish the feeling of suffering) and that meditation was a path to the end of this particular kind of suffering.

 

So in spite of the fact that practicing loving-kindness towards myself seemed initially to be a very daunting task – turning a loving and compassionate gaze upon what I perceived to be a plethora of inner flaws – I sensed that practicing it would be essential to my ability to heal and develop greater emotional and spiritual resilience.

 

After all, how was I to be the kind of mother, wife, friend, teacher, family and community member who could offer authentic love and kindness to the people in my life, if I could not first offer it to myself?

 

Ruth King, in her seminal book “Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism From the Inside Out” has a brilliant quote describing the essence of the metta practice. She says:

 

“Kindness is the water of humanity. Without water, we harden. Kindness is an attitude, an aspiration, and a practice. It is also core to spiritual life and religions. In the tradition I’m trained in, we practice metta, which the Pali word for unconditional kindness – friendliness and genuine acceptance. Metta is part of a constellation of heart practices referred to as the Brahmaviharas, or divine abodes.

 

Metta is not a prayer for help from something or someone outside of ourselves. It is not an ego-driven kindness based on possessions, attachment, or grasping, nor is it overly sentimental. Rather, metta is a genuine desire for all beings, without exception, to be safe from inner and outer harm, to be healthy and content, and to live with ease.” (pp. 93)

 

I love this particular description of metta being like water. Water is such an incredible source of nourishment for the entire planet. It is life giving and containing. It grows the crops we need to eat to survive – it rains down from the sky and replenishes our fresh water springs – it hardens into glaciers and floats in the furthermost regions of our planet, to offer a vital support for our entire global ecosystem.

 

Water literally holds all life on this planet in balance. It also reminds me of how replenishing it feels to jump into the ocean, or any cool body of water on a hot day – holding the magical ability to figuratively ‘wash all of our cares away’.

 

This brings me to the point of this particular blog post – I have often wondered how the healing waters of a regular mindfulness meditation practice, and within that, having a metta meditation practice can potentially be a kind of alchemical process by which we develop our ability to adapt, survive, and yes – perhaps thrive in this ever changing and often times chaotic world?

 

How can a metta practice become a ‘medicine bowl’ that we carry with us in our hearts? A medicine bowl that is full of calming, centering and healing energy that we can access no matter where we go, and with whom we come into contact with?

 

From the vantage point of this question, I would like to ask that you engage in a little imaginative visual meditation practice with me.

 

I hope after reading this, you find that the image of a medicine bowl is something that you can bring into your own meditation practice, should it resonate with you.

 

Please bring to your mind the image of a beautiful bowl that you have made with your own hands. It can be made of any material that you like. It can be any color, any size, and it can be decorated with any symbols, shapes, or art that have positive meaning to you.

 

Take a moment to really see this bowl in your mind, until the picture becomes very vivid. This bowl is big enough to place anything into, and yet it still magically fits right inside of your heart where you can access it whenever you need it.

 

Now the key is, inside of this bowl, you can place anything that brings you closer to the experience of interdependence – which is a word that means that all people and things are interconnected.

 

The idea is that by feeling into a sense of interdependence and sensing how connected we are to everything around us, we can start to feel into a greater sense of belonging.

 

This feeling of belonging, from my experience, is like a doorway to metta, or loving kindness, because deepening our understanding about how we are connected to everything around us is a great way to begin to start feeling more kindness towards yourself and others.

 

It is like developing a more loving relationship with your surroundings and everyone in them.

 

Now, imagine that you are bringing into your medicine bowl images of moments in this life when you have felt happy – perhaps these might be memories of your childhood; or your favorite place to relax on days off work; of walking in nature; or even special places you have visited during your travels.

 

Next, picture times in life when you have felt relatively healthy – and if those times are not readily available, you can picture images of what being healthy ideally means to you. You are eating well, getting out and moving, and feeling good. You can place these in your medicine bowl as well.

 

Next, you can pictures places where you feel safe – perhaps this is in your home, or in your church, or at school, or maybe it is the home of a cherished friend or family member. Gently place these images into your medicine bowl.

 

Now lastly- and this will require a bit of imagination – try to picture what finding and embodying peace and freedom is all about to you.

 

Maybe you have a vision of people who have been in conflict lovingly embracing one another. Perhaps this means having the ability to come and go as you please, wherever you please. Perhaps you envision freedom as the ability to be who you want to be without judgment.

 

Let your mind expand and visualize what you might feel like – and what this world might look like if you, and everyone around you, were experiencing peace and freedom, right now.

 

Now do your very best to take these images, all of them, and place them inside of the medicine bowl that you created at the beginning of your meditation practice. Do your very best to trust that they will remain there forever.

 

 

And now, (and this, I think, is the best part of this meditation practice) you can start to cultivate this medicine bowl in little moments of every day life ways that you might not expect.

 

For example, perhaps you are standing in your kitchen doing the dishes, or cooking, and you recognize “hmmm…in this moment, I feel safe, happy and content.” You can put this small moment of metta, too, into your medicine bowl.

 

Or maybe you are walking around your neighborhood and you see a ray of golden sunlight dappling down onto the sidewalk…or you hear the beautiful sound of a chorus of birds singing in a tree. Maybe you catch out of the corner of your eye the sight of a child happily running free down your neighborhood block, and this brings you a momentary feeling joy.

 

You can say to yourself, “This moment of happiness, I will put into my medicine bowl.” Drop by drop, you can always find new ways to fill your medicine bowl up with metta!

 

There are limitless examples of little ways in which we can keep filling up our medicine bowl, and our capacity to feel loving-kindness for ourselves!

 

It is my hope that you can see your own ability to build up a reservoir of well-being in your medicine bowl to use during the stressful moments of life, which all of us experience at one point or another. This reservoir adds to itself, and reflects outwards each time we add to it like the ripples of a body of water when hit by the smallest of pebbles.

 

Then, our loving-kindness can start to vibrate outward and positively impact ourselves first, and then everyone whom we come into contact with.

 

I also believe that this medicine bowl practice can be a very important way to develop inner resilience. Theravada Buddhist teachings often mention that life brings with it change and impermanence – and with that, as is a part of our human experience, there is suffering. Suffering, to me, can be a synonym for stress.

 

Additionally, for those of us who are involved in the work of social justice, feelings of work-related stress can become very overwhelming, as we engage with, and conscientiously support communities and environments that are struggling with various forms of social inequity and injustice.

 

So during those moments when we are feeling emotionally depleted or worn out, we can dip into our medicine bowl for a refreshing splash of the healing waters of metta, in order that we may continue the important work we have to do in the world!

 

I will end this blog post with one last quote from Ruth King’s book “Mindful of Race” that I find to be a great example of what might motivate us to turn again and again to our meditation practice as a practice of peace – to develop the ability to be kind and loving not only towards ourselves, but also, to turn towards the possibility that we may one day be able to send some of the contents of our medicine bowl towards the people who we do not necessarily see eye-to-eye with:

 

“A metta practice will not make what we don’t want go away, nor will it make what we do like stay. Through this mindfulness practice, we are not trying to change what we are facing. Rather, we are freeing ourselves in the moment by loving ourselves, and we are training ourselves to embrace what is right here, right now, with friendliness and intentional goodwill. But most important, it is about maintaining goodwill toward all, even toward our antagonists.” (pp. 94)

 

Being able to send metta to literally every single being on the planet is a pretty lofty goal. I, for one, am not claiming to have developed my metta practice to this point. However, I can definitely see the advantages of consistently building a metta practice in order to decrease conflict inside of ourselves, thereby decreasing conflict in the world around us.

 

By repeatedly practicing metta first for myself, and then for the people who are close to me, and by recognizing and becoming more aware of the plentiful but little moments in life that can fill up my medicine bowl – like spending time with a beloved family member – or taking a walk in a park or by the beach – or going to a yoga class – or simply sitting in silence for a few moments throughout my day – or just slowly and mindfully eating a good meal – I know am working towards developing the ability to direct loving-kindness towards all beings in this world.

 

It is seemingly little things like building up our inner medicine bowl that eventually will grow into a tremendous force for positive change in this world.