In this excerpt from Sharon Salzberg’s The Kindness Handbook, she teaches us that by repeatedly practicing kindness and generosity with others and ourselves, that is who we become and what begins to feel most natural. Learn how and start now.
It is so easy for us to dwell on all of the regrettable things we have done or said — the times when we now feel we were too timid or too forceful or too withdrawn or too involved. I suggest you pause for a bit and think for the next few minutes about what you’ve done well, about a time when you were generous or kind or balanced, and try to appreciate yourself for that.
At first it might actually feel somewhat uncomfortable. It tends to be easier to think about the time we almost gave something but then decided not to, and it’s still folded up in the attic. Or the time we were way too outspoken and said the wrong thing. Or the time when we carelessly overlooked someone, ignored them, and hurt their feelings. All these might be valid reflections, and helpful in some way, but they don’t paint the picture of all that we are, all that we could ever be. Spending a few minutes each day thinking of the good within us and taking delight in the goodness we can manifest is how we are able to continually touch on and deepen a true and genuine happiness.
To rejoice in our ability to make choices, to cultivate the good, to let go of that which harms us and causes suffering for us, will give us the confidence to keep experimenting, to do things that might be somewhat new for us, that feel like taking a risk — not toward recklessness, but toward compassion.
No one of us can do these things perfectly; it is a constant journey, an ongoing practice. We practice generosity with others and with ourselves, over and over again, and the power of it begins to grow until it becomes almost like a waterfall, a flow. We practice kindness with others and ourselves, over and over again, and this is who we become, this is what feels most natural.
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Lovingkindness Practice for Times of Emotional or Physical Pain
All our lives our innate wisdom tells us to let go, to be peaceful, to relinquish unwise efforts to control. Our culture, conditioning, and personal history usually tell us to hold on, to attempt to cling to people, pleasure, and accomplishments in order to be happy. Many times our lives are spent in a battle between our innate wisdom and the culture’s message about clinging and control. When we are challenged by painful experience, it is above all the time to turn to, trust, and rest in the voice of truth within us.
Phrases to Use in Lovingkindness Practice
Here are some phrases that may be of help to you in this. Choose one or two phrases that are personally meaningful to you. You can alter them in any way or use ones that you have created for their unique personal significance.
“May I accept my pain, without thinking it makes me bad or wrong.”
“May I remember my consciousness is much vaster than this body.”
“May all those who have helped me be safe, be happy, be peaceful.”
“May all beings everywhere be safe, be happy, be peaceful.”
“May my love for myself and others flow boundlessly.”
“May the power of lovingkindness sustain me.”
“May I open to the unknown, like a bird flying free.”
“May I accept my anger, fear, and sadness, knowing that my vast heart is not limited by them.”
“May I be free of danger; may I be peaceful.”
“May I be peaceful and happy, at ease in body and mind.”
“May I be free from anger, fear, and worry.”
“May I live and die in ease.”
Try Lovingkindness Meditation
To begin, take as comfortable a position as possible — sitting or lying down. Take a few deep soft breaths to let your body settle. Bring your attention to your breath, and begin to silently say your chosen phrases in rhythm with the breath. You can also experiment with just having your attention settle in the phrases, without using the anchor of the breath. Feel the meaning of what you are saying, yet without trying to force anything. Let the practice carry you along.
Adapted from The Kindness Handbook by Sharon Salzberg. Copyright 2008, 2015 Sharon Salzberg. To be published in paperback in August 2015 by Sounds True.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sharon Salzberg, a student of Buddhism since 1971, has been leading meditation retreats worldwide since 1974. She is a cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society and of The Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. Her books include Lovingkindness(Shambhala, 2008) and the New York Times bestseller, Real Happiness (Workman, 2010). She lives in New York City and Barre, Massachusetts. For more, visit sharonsalzberg.com.