My New Year’s resolution is to learn how to meditate. It’s always sounded like something I should do, but I don’t know how to. My friends who do it say it’s really freakin’ brilliant. They say you can’t know the peace/awareness/contentment until you do it. My brain drives me mental. I am going to start. Tomorrow.
I think I get it.
Loving Kindness Meditation
Just as the desert sand burns in the heat of the hot afternoon sun and is cold to the touch during a crisp evening, our minds reflect the influences in our life. The thinking in which we engage, the nature of people with whom we spend time, and the type of media we absorb all contribute to the quality of our minds. The purpose of meditation is to focus the mind as well as identify the things that make it unstable. Quite often mental wavering is due to our habits, for the mind thrives and is structured by habit. To begin a meditation practice is to add a habit to our lives whose substance is clarity, insight, kindness, and non-judgment.
“The thinking in which we engage, the nature of people with whom we spend time, and the type of media we absorb all contribute to the quality of our minds.”
The yogis of India have taught that meditation brings brightness and clarity to the mind. Without it, the mind remains cloudy with mental fluctuations, which color the way we perceive the world. These mental fluctuations are generally of six types, according to the yogis, depicted as the six poisons: desire, anger, greed, delusion, pride, and envy. We possess them all to some degree, but usually only one or two are apparent obstacles, and act as our default reaction to troublesome situations. With meditation, our poisons begin to melt as we meet them not with force, but with kindness, gentleness, and love. When we do this, their hold on us will loosen.
“To those whom we perceive as acting virtuously, we can direct feelings of goodwill and sympathetic joy. Towards those whom we perceive as behaving poorly or without proper morality, we can cultivate a benevolent indifference by overlooking their faults.”
What are some of the ways that the six poisons manifest in our behavior? Often we feel envious of the happiness and gains of others, or take a cruel delight in the suffering of those we perceive to be our enemies. Virtuous people can make us jealous, and those behaving without virtue or morality—or even with a morality different than ours—cause feelings of anger and indignation. Such thinking prevents the mind from attaining concentration and tranquility. We remain judgmental, and our feelings of superiority keep us separate from the reality that we are all beings with faults.
These thought patterns can be reversed, however, when we direct genuine feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, and compassion towards those who are in distress. To those whom we perceive as acting virtuously, we can direct feelings of goodwill and sympathetic joy. Towards those whom we perceive as behaving poorly or without proper morality, we can cultivate a benevolent indifference by overlooking their faults. This will help in attaining a tranquil, serene state of mind. It is not simply positive thinking, but a restraining of the mind from dwelling on the perceived achievements or weaknesses of others; it is a beginning step in not judging ourselves and our fellow beings, in creating kindness.
The method is simple: sit down in a quiet, comfortable spot, either on the floor or in a chair. Take a few slow breaths, inhaling and exhaling calmly and smoothly. Then, begin repeating the following formula to yourself:
May I be happy.
May I be free from fear.
May I be free from sorrow.
May I be free from suffering.
Repeat this three times. Then, repeat the same, replacing the “I” with the name of someone you love or who is dear to you. Next, use the name of someone you feel is an enemy, or someone you are having difficulty with, then someone who has the same feelings of enmity towards you. Lastly, extend the meditation towards all beings, and the whole world.
The words should be repeated with gentle concentration and genuine feeling; we should feel that the person we are meditating on is there with us. This will contribute to our transformation. We are not repeating empty phrases, but stating a heartfelt prayer, and forming an intention.
When we wish for someone else’s happiness, for them to be free from fear and sorrow, the way we relate with them is altered. Suddenly, they are no longer in opposition to us, but a fellow human being beset by the difficulties of life. This practice is the seed of learning to be non-judgmental. The state of non-judgment is a neutral point, it is a fulcrum whereby the poisons quiet, and qualities like compassion and understanding can begin.
Try this meditation for a few minutes sitting down, once or twice a day; try it when you are with a person who makes you angry, jealous or fearful; try it when you are with someone you love; try it on the subway. You may find that it shifts the feelings you have towards the people upon whom you meditate, and your ability to relate to them. From that comes a sense of being, steady in oneself, of being peaceful and calm.
When, through our life and circumstances, we come to see that it is not possible for us to change the world, we learn that somehow we must change ourselves. Amazingly, when we change our internal perception, somehow the world changes with us.
Note: It is important to seek out an experienced meditation teacher for guidance when wishing to pursue deeper levels of practice.
– Eddie Stern
Eddie Stern is the founder and director of Ashtanga Yoga New York in Manhattan.