I work for A Book for All Seasons, a small, independent bookstore in downtown Leavenworth, Washington. Over the holidays, I noticed that despite the busyness, the crowds, and the moments when people could barely move until one person inched forward so another person could inch to the right and thus clear the way for more movement from one place to another, people acted with courtesy, respect and kindness.
This was noticeable to me for the reason that this hasn’t always been the case during the holidays. At some point, families are tired and lose their tempers or snipe at one another or other customers, stress overwhelms someone and harsh words are spoken. But not this year. Why is this? I wondered. And then it occurred to me. People are mindfully practicing kindness, care and compassion in the wake of a need for just such a presence.
As people practiced this with me and with one another, I found myself giving back in-kind. At other times, as I interacted with customer service people on the phone, I found myself becoming aware of how I could more kindly speak with them. After all, they are doing their job the best they can. I noticed that they, in turn, spoke more kindly with me and were more helpful.
This mindful practice has a name in Buddhist tradition: metta bhavana. There is a full explanation on the website; the shortened version for me is this: First, I feel love and compassion for myself by becoming aware of my body, my heart, my sense of tension or non-tension. I repeat to myself, May I feel ease, May I feel peace, May I feel love, May I feel Kindness and Compassion. I do this until I feel love and kindness within.
Next, I think of a friend or family or of someone for whom I truly care. I repeat this mantra for this person, too, until I truly feel that compassionate connection with them.
Next, I think of someone with whom I feel neutral – someone I know but with whom I do not have a strong relationship. I repeat this mantra until I feel that connection once again.
A fourth time I repeat this mantra, but with someone I do not like or for whom I feel misgivings. I try to think of the person positively and send metta to that person as well.
Finally, I open my awareness to all of humanity along with all four people with whom I’ve been practicing feeling loving kindness radiating from my heart.
I spend about two to five minutes for each and close gradually at the end. Every time I practice this, and though it’s not always easy for me, I find my awareness of others expanding into a deeper, more compassionate connection.
Here is an explanation for a practicing meditation from the Buddhist Center website (https://thebuddhistcentre.com/text/loving-kindness-meditation).
May your loving kindness return to you a thousand-fold.