Excerpt from The Four Virtues

by Tobin Hart

Living Kindness

What if our practice for this day, or perhaps several days, was simply to lead with kindness, in the first words upon greeting someone, the expression on our faces, our body language, and, most significantly, the underlying attitude and intention in our hearts and minds? Give it a try. At the end of the day or days, reflect upon the experience. How were you feeling? How did others respond? What surprised you? What gets in the way of kindness?

Loving-Kindness

The following is a form of the classic loving-kindness meditation, or metta, from Buddhist practice:

Sitting comfortably, assume a relaxed and upright position. Take a few deep breaths and allow your body to relax and settle in. See if certain phrases emerge from your heart that express what you wish most deeply for yourself, not just for today but in an enduring way. Find phrases that are big enough and general enough that you can ultimately wish them for all of life, such as, “May I live in health and harmony. May I be fulfilled. May I find my way.” While in a contemplative state, gently repeat these phrases over and over again and have your mind rest in the phrases. Whenever you find your attention has wandered, don’t worry; just see if you can gently let go and begin again.

Next, call to mind someone you care about. Visualize them and say their name to yourself. Get a feeling for their presence, and then direct the phrases of loving-kindness to them. “May they live in health and harmony. May they be fulfilled. May they find their way.” Use whatever phrases seem best to you.

Next, call to mind someone you know who’s having a difficult time right now. They’ve experienced a loss, a painful feeling, or a difficult situation. If someone like that comes to mind, imagine them sitting in front of you. Say their name. Get a feeling for their presence and offer the phrases of loving-kindness to them.

Think of someone who plays some role in your life, some function that you don’t know very well, whom you don’t have a particular feeling for or against. Imagine them sitting in front of you, and offer these same phrases of loving-kindness to them.

When we aim the heart in this way, we’re opening to connecting, extending our caring in all directions, boundlessly, infinitely. Ultimately, we open in this way to all beings everywhere. “May all beings live in health and harmony. May all beings be fulfilled. May all beings find their way.” When you feel ready, open your eyes and see if you can bring this energy with you throughout the day.

Prayer of the Loving Gaze

The instructions are as simple as it gets: Look on everything with love. That’s it. Whether a family member or stranger, a tree, or your lunch, simply bring a loving gaze and feeling to all you encounter. Over the course of several minutes or a whole day, we may find our intention and attention drifting, so gently remind yourself to bring back the attitude of a loving gaze that is key.

Gently Listening

This can easily be done with a group seated together. Divide the group in two and pair each person with a partner. Have partners sit facing one another. The group leader briefly explains the necessity of trust and confidentiality, that what will be said will be kept respectfully between the partners. The task is just to listen deeply and take in what the other is saying as fully as possible. There is no need to respond with words to the speaker; just listen deeply to the other. Once that is agreed upon, invite everyone to settle into relaxed silence. Take a few moments to really fall deeply and gently inward. Upon the ring of the bell or whatever signal you use, each person will take turns speaking to their partner from the heart for two minutes or more about one of the following:

  • A time when you were gentle to yourself
  • A time that was difficult for you
  • A time when you felt loved

Gently hold the space for one another without speaking a response. Thank one another. You might want to talk about what that was like with one another or even try another round.

Thanks

In many traditions, there is frequent emphasis on gratitude, on noting and naming what we are thankful for. This is usually taken up as a devotional practice. Whether in a blessing before a meal, a prayer at bedtime, a daily journaling activity, or a deep feeling of appreciation for a loved one or a lovely day, there is something about thankfulness that seems to bring forth a desirable quality of mind. This can help settle our hunger and allow us to humble our ambition and appreciate the gifts we’re given. The power is not in merely saying the words; simply going through the motions usually does little.

Take a few deep breaths and settle into your seat. As you relax, bring your attention to the area of your chest—that place inside where you have experienced the feelings of love, care, or appreciation. Bring to mind and heart something or someone you genuinely feel appreciation for. Take a quiet moment to really bring them to view, to bring them to your heart. What feeling do they evoke? Do your best to really feel some of that right now and hold on to that for several moments. If distractions arise, just bring your awareness back to the area of your heart. Now simply radiate your appreciation, gratitude, or love in some way, sending that energy to them through your heart.

Alternatively, you could keep a gratitude journal. Simply note the things you have been grateful for over the course of a day. When done earnestly, many describe that throughout the day they find themselves looking for things to be grateful for. They have attuned themselves to gratitude.


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