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What is Loving Kindness?

cherish - loving kindness

cherish © 2010 Mahala Mazerov

So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
~ Buddha’s discourse on Loving Kindness

Thanks to all of you who are joining in the Summer of Loving Kindness Invitational, #SOLI. It’s a delight to see what you’re creating. I must admit to being very happy every time a new person joins in.

I’m also excited to discover that I’m noticing more and more kindness related offerings on the internet, whether they’re from #SOLI participants or not. This is exactly what I wanted — to turn my mind to loving kindness and discover it all around me on a more constant basis. I hope that’s happening for you, too.

We can all be mirrors of loving kindness everywhere.

[Just so you know, I'm writing it as "loving kindness" here in this post for the sake of the search engines. I'd like to have as many people as possible discovering and engaging in this awareness.]

As we explore our concepts of loving kindness inspired by the writing prompts or our own insights, I thought it would be helpful to share the Buddhist meaning of the word.

Many of you know the word Metta; it comes from the Pali language. (Some of you also know Maitri, which is Sanskrit.) It’s most often translated as loving kindness, but in truth there is no singular word in English that expresses the full breadth of the word. It’s more than affection or warm feelings, and very different from the attachment that forms with worldly love.

Some translators say it literally means “friendliness,” but that too is different from how we generally use the word.

When we love, when we feel friendliness for someone, we tend to exclude others. We think “I love you.” Or “This person is my friend. This group is my tribe. That person is a stranger. Those people are my adversaries.”

Metta does not set up such boundaries of exclusion. True loving kindness is extended to all humanity. That is what makes it a practice requiring (and worthy of) ongoing devotion.

The Buddha uses the image of a mother’s love for her only child as the epitome of love. It’s the loving kindness we should develop for all beings. When you consider how carefully this mother would attend to her child, how no self-sacrifice would be too great to see her child survive and flourish, you begin to grasp the full meaning of metta.  You come to understand what is being asked of you, and what a great gift you give to the world, even if you can only generate a small amount of loving kindness at a time.

If you’re a parent, I would love to hear how this description resonates with your experience.

For everyone: How can you bring the essence of loving kindness into your day?

#SOLI : Lovingkindness : Writing Prompts

interior © 2010 Mahala Mazerov

Welcome to the latest project on the LuminousHeart blog. I hope you’ll join in. If you haven’t seen it yet, you probably want to read the Summer of Lovingkindness Invitational post first. Just so you know, there are no participation commitments. You are welcome however and whenever you choose to engage.

Glorious heartfelt thanks to all of you who have signed up, emailed, tweeted, sent good thoughts, and invited your friends to join in the Summer of Lovingkindness Invitational.

(Thanks, too, to everyone who kept the momentum going when I had web site woes. Everything is fixed and comments are working again.)

When I sent #SOLI into the world, I had a deep wish it would grow over time to be much more than my singular offering. Even though we’re just barely getting started, I feel this is happening already. You’re gathering it up in your arms, making it your own. Some of you are starting new blogs, testing shaky writer’s voices, looking through art portfolios. I couldn’t be happier. Or more grateful.

I have some writing prompts for you, but first, a few housekeeping items:

I’ve created a “What’s #SOLI” link in the navigation bar above. You will always be able to find this post and the original Invitation under that link. (You can find my own #SOLI offerings via the Categories link on the right hand sidebar.)

If you’re on Twitter, I’m @LuminousHeart. I’ve started a SOLI group. (I didn’t use the hashtag because I was afraid it would botch the link.) If I haven’t added you already, do join the list and I will add you on my end.

Also if you’re on Twitter, use the #SOLI tag in your tweets. It will help me find you.

If you’re on Facebook and can walk me through setting up a Fan (?) Page, I’d greatly appreciate it. I already have a FB account, but only use it to connect to people who aren’t on twitter so far. ;-)

Now for Writing Prompts!

These are only ideas to get your juices flowing. Feel free to take them up or ignore them all.

  • How do you define love, lovingkindness?
  • Do you have a  metta / maitri /lovingkindness meditation practice? Write about your experiences. (Let me know in the comments if you want me to teach this practice to you.)
  • Artists, Poets, Musicians – what are the colors of lovingkindness, the images, the sounds, the symbols?
  • Have you ever had a profound experience from an act of lovingkindness – given or received?
  • How do you practice lovingkindness in daily life?
  • If you remembered that everything is impermanent, ie: remembered you could lose something / someone at any time, how would that change your love? How would it change your actions?
  • Who have you loved, who have you been kind to?
  • What person or thing has changed you by the loving of them?
  • Does lovingkindness mean telling the truth all the time or is there love in telling “white lies” ?
  • Love and activism – your thoughts?
  • Is there room for lovingkindness in business? Can a business succeed without it?
  • Describe an experience of thinking of another’s needs ahead of your own. Was it a “should” or a kindness? What was the result?
  • Which is harder for you, lovingkindness towards yourself or towards others?
  • Tell a story, a memory you have of lovingkindness.

That should be enough to get you started!

Watch the #SOLI hashtag on Twitter for more prompts over time including quotes. Or use your own favorite quotes as a jumping off point.

Let yourself be inspired, too, by reading the other participants. Something they create could very well inspire you to new ideas of your own.

Summer of Lovingkindness Invitational

Representing the many layers of love and lovingkindness present in the world around us

layers of lovingkindness ©2010 Mahala Mazerov

Calling all practical idealists, hidden mystics, and people of good heart!

Please join me for 2 months of creative focus on love and lovingkindness.

Starting today, (July 1st) through August 31st, I invite you to share your words, art, wisdom, and stories — your questions, contemplations and experiences — in the Summer of Lovingkindness Invitational, #SOLI for short.

Take part in whatever way works for you.

[update: Some of you have voiced concern that you're afraid you won't be able to keep up with the project. I want to assure you this is not a post-a-day or even a post-a-week project. The idea is to learn to bring lovingkindness into you awareness more frequently than you do now, and to share some of your experience with the rest of us in your creative form of choice.]

You can join in as frequently or infrequently as you like.

You can post on your blog. Write twitter poetry. Fill FaceBook. Wherever you show up on the internet is the place to publish.

Here’s why:

One thing I hear all the time is how much people struggle to make time for spiritual practice. I understand. I’m a huge admirer of people who spend hours in traditional meditation, and still my own practice time falls short of what I’d like it to be. At least, it did until I started redefining what I meant by practice.

When my definition included expressions of lovingkindness, compassion and other qualities throughout my day, the tug of war for practice time came to an end. It turns out, you can practice almost constantly.

In your tradition you may have another name for it, maybe you don’t call it lovingkindness. But you still have something that expresses the same fundamental quality and I would be thrilled to learn about it from you. Maybe you don’t even have a “tradition,” a path you identify with or practices you follow. Even so, you can bring the essence of love into every aspect of life as you live it.

Which brings me to another reason to join in:

Positive change. In 1996, Tibetan monks from the Dalai Lama’s monastery sent blessings over cyberspace.  Tibetan Buddhism views space as an absence of obstruction. That absence, whether in our minds or in cyberspace creates potential for something new to arise. The nature of what arises, negative or positive, harmful or beneficial, depends on the motivation of the one creates or uses it.

Participating in this project will create a result. Possibly subtle, possibly life-changing, but a positive result nonetheless. Even if you create only a few  #SOLI offerings between now and August 31st, your intention to bring more lovingkindness to the world will make a difference.

This positive result won’t only be for you. The fact we’re turning our hearts and minds in the same direction supports us all and moves outward in unexpected dimensions. There’s no way to predict what will happen. No way to predict what you’ll receive. No way to know who will find your #SOLI blog post when they most need a dose of lovingkindness.

That’s why I want you to join in, instead of me just blogging about loving-kindness by myself for 2 months.

Creating Space

My intention is to invite. To create a space for your heart and your insights, for things positive and unexpected. To that end, I hope you’ll think of me as someone who has simply built the campfire, in hopes that you will gather around, share your stories and send them lovingly across cyberspace.

Please join in. Spread the word. Jump into the fray. Let me know what can I do to make this a wonderful experience for you.  Let me know, too, if you have ideas or gifts you’d like to add to the #SOLI experience.

Moment of truth

Are you in?

Take part in whatever way works for you. This community is open to prolific and slow bloggers (artists, identifier of choice) everywhere. If you’ve got love in your heart or if you’re afraid you’ve misplaced it in the chaos of daily life, we welcome you!

Please sign the list below which includes a link to point us to your #SOLI offerings.

Next up I’ll have a list of questions and writing prompts to get your ideas flowing. But for now thanks for reading this far, and special thanks and blessings for the first 5 people who sign up (so my heart can start beating again.)

[update: I'm hearing "I'm in" from a number of you, but not seeing your name on the link list below. It's OK not to sign up if it feels too public or like it puts to much pressure on you to participate. But it's probably the key way to show up as a like-minded person so we all can find and get to know you. Just a thought.]

When Stories Hurt

1 topic : 4 voices. This post was inspired by something Susan Piver wrote on twitter. “There is a way to write that solidifies your story and a way to write that liberates you from it.” The ensuing conversation was too wonderfully juicy to leave to 140 characters. Tweeting then and writing now are Susan Piver, Hiro Boga, Jennifer Louden and myself. I’m honored to be in their company. Please follow the links, read their blogs, and enjoy their expanding wisdom on the subject.

update: 5 voices. Dave Navarro wrote an incredible post you really should see called How to Stop Telling Your Sad, Sad Story.

shimmering sunflower

sunflower shimmer © 2010 Mahala Mazerov

I’m a believer in the power of stories. They teach, inspire, and heal. Stories can express the depth of sorrow for what we’ve lost. They remind us of challenges faced and overcome. We reclaim our wholeness through stories.

But sometimes stories hurt. They’re like shards of glass wedged in our psyche. They may be nearly invisible, half-forgotten. Then we brush up against them and are stunned by their fresh pain.

We all have stories like this. They drag us to the past even us as we move forward in time. A new event unfolds and triggers the old hurt, making it a little more true in our minds.

We believe we are our stories. They describe our fears, reasons for anger, feelings of being unloved, and our perceived limitations.

Our mind cycles through them, trying to make sense, trying to resolve the pain into a neat package that doesn’t hurt any more. But every time we revisit them instead of finding resolution we seem to drive the shards a little deeper into our hearts.

Here are two truths: We are not our stories. Some things are not resolvable.

Freedom then depends on something besides resolution. Something different than making peace with the past so as to be untouched by it.

One way to work with painful stories is to move beyond the story all together. Move beyond the narrative that only serves to hook us further. We’re talking about this right now in the shenpa course I’m teaching. We’re learning to stay, which means learning to stay present with the pure vibration, sensation and emotion without going into words. (You’ll find some guidelines in this compassionate abiding post.)

Another way to work with stories that hurt is to hold awareness of the story, but make a radical turn outward. Instead of holding the hurt close as your own private provenance, extend your gaze. When you do you’ll discover your personal story is mirrored in the lives of others as far as you can see. Shimmering in Indra’s net.

Staying present to the pain of your experience and looking outward, compassion arises spontaneously.

Now the words of maitri meditation (metta, loving-kindness) swell with meaning.

May I live in safety. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease.

Knowing how my personal pain shackles me, knowing what it feels like to cry, to rage, to doubt myself…

Knowing you want happiness and freedom just as I do, I say with all my heart…

May you live in safety. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.

Your story becomes spacious with humanity. Not resolved. Transformed.

Your thoughts invited: What wounding, personal story can you see as a story of humanity?

Testing the Benefits of Meditation… in the Emergency Room

We read a lot about the benefits of meditation. But the true test may come in times of trauma. Here’s how meditation transformed a severe fall and a trip to the emergency room into an experience of mindful awareness.

Develop Self Compassion: Meditation instructions for working with the breath

Photography as Meditation: The Friday Flower. Sometimes just photos. Sometimes with writing. Appearing on Fridays.

compassion for the layers © 2009 - 2010 Mahala Mazerov

Sometimes it’s easier to have more compassion for others than we have for ourselves.

We have feelings we think we shouldn’t have. We have prejudices we wish we didn’t have. We act in ways that disappoint or embarrass us.

Instead of pushing these down, denying them, or venting against others, we have another choice. We can work with the breath and bring our attention to these unwanted feelings.

We can practice compassionate abiding.

Here are simple meditation instructions:

When something difficult comes up, in the very moment of experience, let yourself feel whatever you are feeling. Make contact with those unwanted guests. Be completely open to them without trying to change them in any way.

At the same time, breathe in. There’s no need to force it to be a certain way. Just let your breath be as it is.

Relax any judgment you may have about what you’re feeling. Just as you’re letting your breath be what it is, let your experience be what it is, too.

When you breathe out, see if you can give your feelings more space to exist. Like throwing the windows wide open to air out a stuffy room, the simple act of breathing creates space so your feelings can move.

Breath with tenderness. With curiosity. You may even chose to notice how these feelings exist and move through your body.

Abide with compassion for yourself. Breathing in, experience what’s happening. Breathing out, experience what’s happening.

Keep practicing for as long as you like, staying present with the feeling tones and allowing them to change as they will.

Working with the breath in this way, you can learn to address all the facets of yourself with love and acceptance. You embrace yourself with compassion in spite of those things you’d like to change.

You can use this practice when you feel overcome by difficult emotions or in those first moments when shenpa arises. You can also wait, find yourself a safe space, and work with your breath as you bring the raw emotions to mind again.

The key is to remain free from the rigidity of aggression or denial. Abide in unconditional compassion. Let your mind be pliant. Recognize the magnificent, fluid being you truly are.

Do you ever do the opposite of what makes you happy?

Photography as Meditation: The Friday Flower. Sometimes just photos. Sometimes with writing. Appearing on Fridays.

flame © 2009 - 2010 Mahala Mazerov

Do you ever find yourself doing the opposite of what makes you happy?

I don’t mean working when you wish you were on vacation or saving money by not going shopping. I mean continually making choices even when you know they’re the opposite of what would give you real happiness.

Ever since I came home from (glorious) time with my Teacher, I’ve been especially aware of how I direct my life. I’m not very pleased by what I see.

I know in my heart of hearts what would bring me absolute joy would be to give myself enough time for long practice sessions — where I could do all the visualizations and prayers and mantras without feeling like the clock was ticking.

… or spend time creating content for my wonderful shenpa program people.

… or focus on establishing solid work and life rhythms that are sustainable for me.

These are all within my power to choose and to do. So why do I fritter away so much time and energy on meaningless things?

None of my distractions feed me. I’m dissatisfied with myself and with them even as I engage in them. They are the opposite of what makes me happy. Yet I continue to drop into my computer chair instead of my meditation chair. I create little errands instead of a bigger container that will prioritize them.

Why is it so hard to choose what I know I will love? What I know will nourish and revitalize me? What I know will support my ability to help others?

Why?

I’m not writing this seeking comfort or advice. Maybe it’s my way of saying I grasp and crash and fail just like everyone else. But it’s also my way of staying present with what is and giving it a name.

Suffering.

You may think that word is reserved for grief as deep as 9/11, destruction the magnitude of Haiti or despair for places like Darfur.

In Buddhist terms, suffering is also this listlessness. It’s walking around numb, but not entirely. Distracted. Dissatisfied. Continuing to wander in ignorance. Turning away from actions that lead to real happiness in favor of fleeting pleasures. Wasting our rare and precious lives.

This is how we create samsara, how we create karma. And, while it’s not as heavy as the karma created by severely negative deeds, there’s a great danger because we continue thinking it does little harm as we pile it up every day.

Effective immediately, I’m stopping the self-flagellation and thinking kindly of myself. I’m accepting I’m a very human being with very human tendencies. But I’m also shining a light on my choices and reminding myself that the stakes of not changing them are high.

It seems that doing what makes you happy requires awareness, like everything else.

Buddhist Women Who Blog

Photography as Meditation: The Friday Photo. Sometimes just photos. Sometimes with writing. Appearing on Fridays. This week’s image is an abstract macro photograph of a water offering bowl on a Buddhist shrine.

water bowl offering

water offering #1 © 2010 Mahala Mazerov

Back in December, I had the sweet honor of being included in Marguerite Manteau-Rao’s list of 15 Great Women Buddhist Blogs. She’s @minddeep on twitter, and writes poetically of her practice on her Mind Deep blog.

Belated thanks to you, Marguerite, for including me and introducing me to so many inspiring women.

I’ve copied Marguerite’s post and links below. I’m sure you’ll find kindred hearts among these women as much as I have.

After two days of Googling the hell out of the Internet, and back and forth tweets on Twitter, here it is, finally, the promised list of 15 Great Women Buddhist Blogs – in no particular order:

108 Zen Books

Smilin Buddha Kabaret

Zen Dot Studio

Momma Zen

Jizo Chronicles

Becca Faith Yoga

Mama Dharma

Buddhist at Heart

The Asian Welder

Mama Om

Susan Piver

Mindful Purpose

Budding Buddhist

Dalai Grandma

Luminous Heart

Mind Deep (I added Marguerite’s lovely blog here, because of course she didn’t include herself in the list.)

How did I come up with the list? I looked for Buddhist sisters whose blogs reflected a deep commitment to their practice, and also to blogging. Women from all walks of life. Moms, activists, teachers, writers, artists . . . A few, I knew already. Most of them, I just discovered. I hope you will enjoy ‘visiting’ them as much as I have!

If I have forgotten anyone, please add their names in the comments below.
Last, I need to thank Jack at Zen Dirt Zen Dust for his generous help.

Genju then was kind enough to collect additions from the comments on Marguerite’s blog. Here they are:

Buddhist in Nebraska
Meditate and Destroy
Wandering Dhamma
not2wo
Giving Notice Now
Full Contact Enlightenment
Donna Quixote
Zenshin
Damchoewongmo

If you know anyone who should be added to this list, please include them in the comments below.

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