Buddhists spend a lot of time sitting and meditating on loving-kindness and compassion and sending out loving-kindness and compassion to all beings. But if we do not have compassion towards ourselves, how can we expect to send it out to others?

It’s relatively easy to sit on our cushion and think, “May all sentient beings be well and happy,” and send out thoughts of loving-kindness to all those little sentient beings out there on the horizon somewhere! Then somebody comes in and tells us there is a telephone call and we answer crossly, “Go away. I’m doing my loving-kindness meditation.” The best place for us to begin our dharma practice is with our family. We have the strongest karmic connections with family members; therefore, we have a great responsibility for developing our relationships with them. If we cannot develop loving-kindness towards our family, why even talk about other beings? If we really want to open up our heart, it has to be to those directly connected to us, such as our partners, children, parents, and siblings. This is always a difficult task, because we need to overcome deeply entrenched behavioral patterns.

Reflections on a Mountain Lake
I think this can be especially challenging with couples. Sometimes I think it would be a good idea to have a video camera to record how couples relate to each other, so they could see and hear themselves interacting later on. He says this, she says that, every time, and each time the responses are so unskillful. They get locked into a pattern. They cause pain to themselves and to those around them, including their children, and they can’t get out. Putting loving-kindness into practice really helps loosen the tight patterns we have developed over many years. It’s sometimes a very good idea just to close our eyes, then open them and look at the person in front of us—especially if it’s someone we know very well, like our partner, our child or our parents—and really try to see them as if for the first time. This may help us to appreciate their good qualities, which will then aid us in developing loving-kindness for them.

Adapted from Reflections on a Mountain Lake: Teachings on Practical Buddhism by Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo