The Practice of Loving-Kindness | An Excerpt from Comfortable with Uncertainty
To move from aggression to unconditional loving-kindness can seem like a daunting task. But we start with what’s familiar. The instruction for cultivating limitless maitri is to first find the tenderness that we already have. We touch in with our gratitude or appreciation—our current ability to feel goodwill. In a very nontheoretical way we contact the soft spot of bodhichitta. Whether we find it in the tenderness of feeling love or the vulnerability of feeling lonely is immaterial. If we look for that soft, unguarded place, we can always find it.
This formal seven-step practice uses the first line of the Four Limitless Ones chant (see page v). You can also put the aspiration in your own words.
- Awaken loving-kindness for yourself. “May I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness,” or use your own words.
- Awaken it for someone for whom you spontaneously feel unequivocal goodwill and tenderness, such as your mother, your child, your spouse, your dog. “May (name) enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.”
- Awaken loving-kindness for someone slightly more distant, such as a friend or neighbor, again saying their name and aspiring for their happiness, using the same words.
- Awaken loving-kindness for someone about whom you feel neutral or indifferent, using the same words.
- Awaken loving-kindness for someone you find difficult or offensive.
- Let the loving-kindness grow big enough to include all the beings in the five steps above. (This step is called “dissolving the barriers.”) Say, “May I, my beloved, my friend, the neutral person, the difficult person all together enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.”
- Extend loving-kindness toward all beings throughout the universe. You can start close to home and widen the circle even bigger. “May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.”
At the end of the practice, drop the words, drop the wishes, and simply come back to the nonconceptual simplicity of sitting meditation.