Last night I led The Meditation Circle in a Loving Kindness meditation. Except, I revised it. If you are unfamiliar with practicing Loving Kindness, essentially you meditate on specific people in your life: those you love deeply and to which that love comes easily, those who are more of a neutral presence in your life and those with whom you struggle with and have a difficult time loving. There are many different adaptations of course, but this is the basic and overall structure. The idea is that when you find the ability to extend loving kindness towards all people, especially those with whom you struggle, you get the great benefit of being the receptor of that kind of love. The concept of loving kindness is that the love you are extending isn’t only for the benefit of others, but for the benefit of ourselves. It is supposed to be the embodiment of true compassion towards all sentient beings. And for a long time I understood this concept and readily accepted it.
However, these days I cannot help but wonder if the way in which Loving Kindness is set up is actually problematic. The concept of Loving Kindness was brought to popularity by many famous teachers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Tich Nat-Han and Tara Brach. I mean no disrespect to them, but I challenge the idea that we have to spend very much time at all extending love to anyone who wouldn’t take care of that love with integrity and respect. If love is energy then why even spend time exerting towards the people who would do nothing with that energy but exhaust it? Even if that person is only active in our life through our contemplation of meditation, why even give them our attention? We live in a culture that is constantly asking us to over extend ourselves for others in the name of love and kindness, but the truth is that not everyone is entitled to our love. Not everyone is entitled to our kindness. They are both earned and to be nurtured between two consenting adults who are BOTH doing the work of nurturing.
And to be clear, the opposite of not being entitled to love and kindness is not meanness and hate. We must not be so divisive. Being purposely mean and hateful is it’s own kind of energy, not really that dissimilar to that of love and kindness in terms of effort. Instead, we can simply safeguard ourselves by not giving any energy towards those who would not use it well. It also doesn’t mean neutrality but rather radical honesty in which we allow ourselves to state that a person is not deserving of my loving kindness at this moment, either because I do not have the capacity or because they have shown me time and time again that they cannot handle it with care. You could call it a kind of detach with love, because the love is in the name of yourself and your boundaries. You could simply call it detachment because I’m not sure it even matters whether or not love is involved. Love is one of my most favorite emotions and actions, yet we have certainly abused it by calling things out in the “name of love” when really what we are doing is gaslighting our way into toxic positivity. Love is important and precious and yet it does not need to be extended to all at all times because while it feels nice to say “love everyone”, real true and deep love is not always about being nice. Nice, especially in the context these days of social and racial justice can actually be incredibly harmful. And while I could also continue on about how being nice and being kind are not the same thing, I will save that for another day.
My point friends is that part of our work in the world of wellness that exists in 2021 is to really examine some of the old truths we have accepted as such for a very long time. Perhaps many of them, if not all, need an update. When it comes to the concept of loving kindness, for me and for those I teach, I want to extend a different way of going about it so that you walk away from it feeling much more full of love than depleted or as if love is some kind of universal truth that everyone has access to, even though it's a very intimate part of your humanhood.
Here is how I went about it last night instead:
Imagine someone in your life who loves you deeply sitting right next to you. This is someone whose love is so potent that you feel it radiating right through you. Their love for you is unquestioned. Feel the sensation, the emotion and the energy of that love.
Do the same thing with another person in a similar kind of love on the other side of you. Then picture yourself surrounded by anyone else in your life whose love you also know of and feel is readily available to you.
Now imagine the love you have for all of them and them feeling its potency as well. Feel the cyclical nature of how the love they poured in to you is also what is allowing you to pour back into them. There is an exchange of energy happening and while it may not always be effortless, it is filled with a sense of ease.
Now imagine one by one each of these people fades. You are left sitting there alone, except not at all alone. That love and energy, those sensations, that warmth of love that you felt even from just the thought of them, is here with you now. And with that precious love, you get to choose whom you bestow it upon, to whom you deem worthy to receive your personal energy of love by wishing them peace, happiness and a life that is filled with abundant love.
I did use a traditional Loving Kindness mantra aka May you be happy, at ease and free from pain. I decided afterwards that I would not include that in the future. At least the free from pain part. It’s not that we would wish pain on anyone, but to wish a life free from it is in all radical honesty, completely and totally impossible. Life contains pain. Whether it is physical, emotional, enduring or short lived. I don’t say this to be morbid or dark, but simply to allow ourselves to let go of some perfected idea that we could direct our energy in a way that would have someone living completely pain free, including ourselves. And that is very much the point of this entire contemplation, we don’t have to run anymore or pretend that seemingly unflattering truths don’t exist; not everyone gets to have access to our love. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t worthy of love, but perhaps not our own personal brand. And that’s ok. I think we will be far better served moving forward if we start talking about how some of the old practices have actually become outdated as we are learning more and more about the impact of gaslighting, toxic positivity and privilege in the wellness spaces. And while loving kindness seems like such a virtue to be able to bestow upon others, perhaps selectivity is an ok thing for the sake of truly being in the practice of being loving and kind first and foremost, to ourselves.
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Question for YOU: Do you struggle with giving away energy to others who don't necessarily deserve it? How have you been able to create more boundaries for yourself? Answer in the comments below!
is a Mama, Wife, Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Coach, Writer and Activist. You can read more about her here.