Why is it that the holiday season always seems to bring out the good, the bad, and the ugly in others and in ourselves this time of year? Being around family you haven’t seen in a while, spending money you don’t have, pressure to be happy, all of these things and more can increase one’s stress level leading them to feel irritable, anxious, and distracted.
The good about this time of year is that it can bring people together in giving, gratitude, and love. The bad is that it can remind others of their loneliness or that they don’t have enough money to provide what is “expected” from society in regards to giving. The ugly can look like people fighting in public for the perfect parking spaces, yelling at strangers for cutting them off, or having so many expectations that we fail to be present and grateful for what is here and now. Whatever this time of year may bring out in you, I encourage you to pause, breathe, and be mindful.
So what are some ways we can invite kindness towards ourselves and towards others during this holiday season? The practice of loving-kindness is a foundational practice for doing just this. The loving-kindness practice, also called metta, is inviting the energy of love and kindness first to ourselves, cause we cannot give what we do not have, and then sending that same energy out to others around us.
You may find it helpful to practice this exercise seated in a quiet, comfortable place. You can invite the recitation of the passage below when you wake up in the morning or when you get to your job and have a moment of stillness before starting your day. You can visualize an image of yourself standing in front of you or just turn your attention towards yourself either with eyes open or closed, whatever you prefer. And as you turn towards yourself, recite these words either internally or outwardly:
“May I be well, happy, and peaceful. May no harm come to me. May no difficulties come to me. May no problems come to me. May I always meet with success. May I also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.” “May my mind be filled with the thought of loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. May I be generous. May I be gentle. May I be grateful. May I be relaxed. May I be happy and peaceful. May I be healthy. May my heart become tender. May my words be pleasing to others.” “May all that I see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and think help me cultivate loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, equanimity, generosity, and gentleness. May my behavior be friendly and my loving-kindness be a source of peace and happiness. May my behavior help my personality. May I be free from fear, anxiety, worry, and restlessness. Wherever I go, may I meet people with happiness, peace, and friendliness. May I be protected in all directions from greed, anger, aversion, hatred, jealousy, and fear.”
Recite this passage of loving-kindness every day if possible in order to help shift your energy from a space of stress and irritability to a space of openness, love, and kindness. This passage can be found in the book, Loving-Kindness in Plain English: The Practice of Metta, by Bhante Gunaratana.
Invite this energy towards others by visualizing different categories of people in your life such as loved ones, mentors, acquaintances, strangers, and those you do not like. Go through each category one at a time, visualizing someone that fits in each category and recite this passage as you see them or feel them within you:
“May you be safe” “May you be healthy” “May you live with ease and happiness” “May you be filled with loving-kindness”
Eight ways to cultivate loving-kindness from the book listed above are the following:
1. “Associating” through Repetition: Affirm loving-kindness in your thoughts and deeds, not as a chore, but in a way you truly enjoy. It will become like second nature, and resentments and fears will slowly disappear. 2. Cultivation: Cultivate your mind to grow loving-kindness. This includes beginning to remove obstacles that prevent it from blossoming- this is the practice of mindfulness meditation. 3. Amplification: The more we practice, the more consistently peace will prevail in our minds. 4. Vehicle: See loving-kindness as your mode of transport, as your vehicle for encountering your life and all beings. 5. Ground: Make loving-kindness the basis for wholesome thoughts, words, and deeds. Foundation of generosity, morality, and sharing within yourself. 6. Experience: Bring loving-kindness into your daily life, experience it in your heart and mind. 7. Habit: Make loving-kindness an automatic response like breathing or blinking. This is the power of habit. 8. Practicing Well: Start the day with loving thoughts. Be friendly with yourself, be warm. Be loving and kind. Don’t cause yourself harm in thought, word, or deed. Forgive those who have offended you.
If we can invite these beautiful and powerful qualities of loving-kindness, we can thrive and grow with love this holiday season instead of acting out in anger, greed, or sadness. We all have loving-kindness inside of us, we just need to take time to water the seed and feel it grow. Connect to the metta within.