Cultivating Loving-kindness: Freeing my mind and opening my heart

I can think back to a few significant times as an adult when I felt like I could never love or be vulnerable again. Going through a divorce and experiencing a major career setback are two examples that stand out for me - feeling embarrassed, angry, disoriented and alone eventually gave way to feeling numb and like my heart was a block of cement. Sometimes I didn’t even realize that I was feeling so disconnected until my heart opened up again and I felt the freedom that comes with loving feelings.

I can also think of less significant events that take my loving feelings away for a few hours or a few days, like disagreements with loved ones, someone not talking nicely to me, money difficulties, and being too tired.

Until I had my own children, I thought that the experience of love was a feeling of longing. Through them, I discovered that true love is not a yearning, but a gift freely given and freely received. But as to my relationships with other adults, those took longer to heal from the challenges of conflict and divorce. It was a long time before I trusted another adult with my heart. Lucky for me, he hung in there as my block of cement crumbled away and he tenderly helped me re-assemble the shattered pieces it had become.

I don’t ever again want to go through long periods of time where I don’t feel loving. I know that my journey in this lifetime will hold heart challenges. Therefore, it is paramount that I set time aside to keep my heart space bank account filled with loving thoughts. I know that, in good times and in challenging times, practicing loving-kindness keeps my esoteric heart healthy.

There is a wonderful insight meditation that has been passed down through the ages called Metta. It can be practiced like a mantra, a repeated word or phrase done during contemplation. Although the wording of the phrases usually starts May I or May we, the phrases can be designed for a specific situation. I use and teach the phrases given by Sally Kempton. During a quiet sitting time, you can incorporate these visualizations and statements into your practice. They can be simply repeated over and over, or done in the format outlined below. Caution: do not use this set if you have had recent trauma.

1. Visualize yourself and say these meditations:

· May I feel forgiveness

· May I feel happiness

· May I feel loved

· May all my sufferings be healed

· May I feel at peace

2. Visualize someone you cherish or miss, and say these meditations:

· May we all feel forgiveness

· May we all feel happiness

· May we all feel loved

· May all our sufferings be healed

· May we feel at peace

3. Visualize someone with whom you are in conflict, and say the meditations from 2

4. Visualize a group of people that you feel supported by and say the meditations from 2.

This meditation practice, which I learned while I was training to teach yoga in the jail, is very effective therapeutically for anyone who feels blocked. Often, as we would prepare for it at the end of a yoga class, the women would do legs up the wall and talk for a bit about life, non-violence, truthfulness, self-care. Then we would do our Metta practice. I would see the tears roll down the sides of their beautiful faces. Afterward, the inmates would talk about which part of the practice made them cry. For some, these were tears of the struggle for self-forgiveness; for others, they were tears of sadness for the children or family that they loved so much and missed; for others, they were tears of anger about the abuse that they had suffered.

This meditation is not just for women who are incarcerated. It is for all of us - to break away the shields around our heart, to remind us that this life is a journey of love. Although this is just one practice that I use, it is very powerful. What are some of the practices that you use to create more love?