“Loving kindness (metta), a traditional Buddhist concept, implies acting with compassion toward all sentient beings, with an awareness and appreciation of the natural world.” – Dalai Lama
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?”
– Hillel the Elder
It was no accident that both my sister and I chose helping professions (nursing and social work) for our career paths. Our family and immediate surroundings communicated to us the unspoken rule that our core purpose, meaning, and worth laid in our contribution to others. I have since argued and rebelled against these notions (especially the worth part) but I still found myself on the path that was paved for me by the message embedded in my subconscious early on. This blog entry is not about proving that our meaning or value as human beings lays in what we do. I do not longer believe it is. This is about the benefits of loving kindness to our sense of self worth and overall happiness. Although loving kindness is expressed best through our actions, it originates in our thoughts and our ability to connect inwardly to the loving, kind, compassionate part of our selves. I believe that there is a part of us, in all of us, that feels deeply satisfied when we experience our own inner kindness. Connecting to that part of us that feels unconditional love makes us feel better about ourselves. Period. And when we feel better about ourselves – we feel better about everything and everyone else.“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
When working with depressed or anxious clients whose sense of self worth and esteem are affected by their perceived contribution to society, we run into the “I’m not doing enough” wall. When exploring the meaning and significance of this statement, we commonly find that at the bottom of this wall is the belief that “I’m not enough.” I’m referring to these beliefs as “a wall” because for as long as we choose not to examine them, they block our way to fulfillment and thus indeed feel like an unmovable, permanent wall. I love the moment we hit that wall. It is like a call from within that loving part of self, saying “I’m here and I want to be expressed.” Often, we get to this point after working through other obstacles such as past hurts and resentments, guilt, shame, etc. So, in a way this is also a moment that indicates to me that my client has released some of the baggage that was holding her/ him back from self realization.“Kindness in words creates confidence, kindness in thinking creates profoundness, kindness in giving creates love.”
– Lao Tzu
When I ask my clients what would “enough” be or look like, I’m met with a rainbow of responses that ranges from a baffled look to notions about saving the starving nations of the world or curing cancer. But, most people just want to feel like they are helpful to the significant people in their lives. We often become so preoccupied by what we should be doing and what others may think we should be doing that we become blind to the expressions of love, kindness, and compassion we already exude on a daily basis and to how these expressions contribute to the world around us. We become dismissive of the daily expressions of our loving kindness that are already there. In short, we become so preoccupied with what we should be doing that we forget who we really ARE.
On the day we hit the smilingly unmovable wall of “I’m not doing enough (therefore I’m not enough) I suggest the following homework:
As you go about your week, keep a mental record of the way you already express loving kindness. Don’t go out of your normal way to do things for others or to do things differently. Just notice every time you think about yourself or others with kindness, love, or curiosity instead of judgment. Make a mental note of every time you find yourself smiling, listening emphatically, or expressing sincere gratitude. Try to notice the kind words that come out of your mouth, but don’t force out fake kindness. Notice when you open the door for someone, or yield in traffic, share a meal, or gently touch your loved ones. Notice when you tend to your garden or your pets. Notice when you follow the little voice inside you that tells you to do the right thing even if it is inconvenient. Just notice. Don’t do anything extra, and try not to expect anything in return. Notice how it FEELS to be you in that moment. That’s all.Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. – John 4:7-8
I’m always excited to meet my clients after they have conducted the loving kindness experiment. They look and report feeling lighter and without fail report a shift in their sense of self-worth. Some also report an improvement in their relationships, work environment, and movement towards other goals. When I ask what they have noticed, I hear responses like “that I’m a pretty cool dude,” “that I can be awesome” “that I have more energy to start that project” and more. Something opens up inside us when we put our attention on loving kindness that allows us to feel better, braver, and more at ease…and did I say already that when we feel better about ourselves we feel better about everything else?
I want to invite you to try this experiment in awareness. Consider sharing your experience with others as one way to give out loving kindness. So, please come back and let me know is it going. Blessings on your journey!
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