Loving-kindness is an unusual and, some might say, a redundant term that means ‘benevolent affection.’ In the Pali language, metta refers to this attitude. It has a beautiful meaning worth exploring and applying in today’s socially distant world.
In Buddhist traditions where it originated, metta goes deeper than being nice to other people, which is usually motivated by self-interest. We’re nice when we want to be liked or when we want someone else to do something for us. But to practice loving-kindness is to genuinely care about the welfare of other people regardless if doing so benefits you or not. It also means using that mindset to guide your actions.
To embody this idea, you need to acknowledge that we are all interconnected beings. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras highlight the presence of The Other, and it’s a common theme in these ancient teachings: We are not alone. The wise sages have taught us that synchronizing the breath is the first step to connecting with another. Meditating is when you begin to deepen your awareness and become more receptive of someone else’s energy. Giving someone your undivided attention truly is one of the kindest and most loving things you can do for that person. It’s the first step to empathizing with someone else and perhaps shaping your actions based on their perspectives and experiences.
How to practice Loving-kindness
Working from home can make you feel isolated from the outside world. However, it’s more important than ever to connect with others, even if it means doing so virtually. After deepening your awareness through meditation, here are the two main stages of practicing loving-kindness.
1. Be kind to yourself
Practicing self-care is not being selfish. You need to be the best version of yourself in order to give the most to others. There are many ways you can do this, and you can start by being accepting of your emotions. Kristin Neff, an associate professor of educational psychology, says that you need to acknowledge complicated feelings like isolation or anxiety, which are common experiences for remote workers. Instead of avoiding them, being present with these emotions allows you to have more control over them and how you react. If you’re feeling stressed out from a heavy workload, take a few moments to breathe. This will give you some clarity to plan for how you can tackle your responsibilities.
Creating boundaries between your work and home lives is also an act of self-compassion. Pain-Free Working highlights the dangers of a desk-bound job, particularly on your physical health. Spending more than one-third of your day at work means you have a limited time being physically active, which can be bad for your long-term wellness. You’re also depriving yourself of time to do enjoyable and relaxing activities that are good for your mental health. Whether it’s meditating, sitting down with a good book, or going for a run, you need to practice self-compassion first to adopt a loving-kindness mindset for others.
2. Be kind to others
Self-compassionate actions are the first step to developing mindfulness. Once you’ve mastered that, then the same awareness can be applied to the world around you. The next step is to think of practical actions that can help other people achieve happiness.
Fortunately, there are many ways to extend your loving-kindness from the comfort of your home, especially in our current context. A list from Greenpeace reveals how just by staying home, you’re already helping the world. More concrete actions you can do are to check in on your neighbors, especially the elderly who might need help running errands or who are feeling lonely. You can contribute to fundraising efforts for communities that have been hit hard by the pandemic. Or, try personally reaching out to people who are spreading misinformation and other harmful perspectives. Engage in a meaningful discussion with them in hopes that you can educate rather than suppress their views.
The list of things you can do to practice loving-kindness, even when you’re spending more time at home is endless. It’s a powerful tool that starts with being compassionate toward yourself and, by extension, toward others.
Written by Bathilda Jericho for pilgrimageyogaonline.com