If we decondition our human fixation on flaws and imperfections, we can expose the light and goodness in others, and ourselves.
Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoingRumi
There is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
Ever since we were kids, most of us have been told to ‘cover up’ some parts of our being: sadness, anger, cheekiness, bouts of jealousy or acts of monkeying around. We were raised to believe that there are two sides to every human, and one of them is worse than the other. To children and young adults, this is the most confusing message. They start to mistrust their natural being, struggling to fit an elusive idea of what it means to be a good, worthy person.
In fact, our modern society fosters unworthiness and self-judgment because human brains have been programmed to fixate on the flaws and imperfections, rather than the positives. This process is called ‘the negative bias’. Why are we more highly attuned to the unpleasant side of life? Neuroscientists are clear on that one: our survival has always depended on the skill of spotting danger and reacting to it.
But according to bestselling author of Radical Acceptance, a meditation teacher and psychotherapist Tara Brach, no matter how frail, flawed or imperfect we are, we have exactly what’s needed to be loved and cherished. For over 30 years, Brach has been fusing the Eastern and Western traditions, teaching her followers the practice of ‘good othering’. It is a form of loving-kindness meditation, also called metta meditation, which involves mentally sending goodwill, kindness, and warmth towards others by silently repeating a series of mantras. In Pali, an ancient Buddhist holy language, metta means benevolence, friendliness and goodwill, and as a ‘compassion meditation’, it is often practised in various Asian countries by communal chanting.
Mirror of light and goodness
In a beautiful book titled My Grandfather’s Blessings, Rachel Naomi Remen, an integrative medicine professor and a writer, recalls her Jewish grandfather’s mystical story of the universe’s origins. “This is the tale of the birthday of the world. In the beginning, there was only the holy darkness, the source of life. Then, the wholeness of the world broke and was scattered into thousands of fragments of light. They fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day. We must keep looking for them”. This is the premise of many religions and cultures – we all carry the divine goodness in us. Even Namaste, an Indian greeting synonymous with a start of any yogic practice, can be translated to: ‘I see the light/spark/love in you’.
Tara Brach claims that, just as with any kind of regular meditation practice, ‘good othering’ changes our brain’s neuroplasticity, making us happier, more compassionate and more present. Loving-kindness meditation is rooted in the Buddhist tradition, but there is also a lot of research behind it. Psychologists agree – metta rituals practised together as a family can have a powerful effect on both kids and adults. Some of the most amazing benefits of loving-kindness meditation are: better sleep, increased compassion and empathy, lower self-criticism and enhanced self-love. It is even said to help with recurring migraines!
In one of her lectures, Brach shares an example of her friends’ teenage kid with Asperger’s. As long as his parents concentrated on curing him, they were all unhappy – the boy dropped out of school, had no friends and seemed to get worse every day. Desperate for a change, they consulted Tara. She told the parents to stop trying to help the boy and prescribed a regular loving-kindness meditation. The practice was about concentrating on the areas that they love about their son and giving them attention, if only in their heads. Fast-forward two years and the boy is now a professional videographer, happy and thriving. What happened? When the parents began to think more of what they appreciated about their son, they instilled light into their relationship. He felt that light and started to flourish. Tara writes: “For parents, for all of us, the greatest gift we can give to another person is to remind them of what is loveable and trustworthy and pure about who they are. When we start to see that goodness – the sacred essence in each human – it allows compassion to flow freely and miracles can happen.”
HOW TO PRACTISE METTA-MEDITATION AT HOME?
Find your ideal time of the day. It can be upon waking (for those who rise at the same time and don’t have to rush out of the house), or right before bed. Sit together comfortably with your eyes closed, and imagine what you wish for your life. Formulate these desires into sentences. They can sound like that:
May I be healthy and strong. May I be happy. May I be filled with love, light and ease.
Start with directing these mantra phrases at yourself. Repeat them together a couple of times.
Then ask your kids to imagine someone in their lives – a friend, an acquaintance, a family member, anyone they have a negative or a neutral relationship with. Tell them to send all the love and warmth towards them. It may feel hard and difficult at the beginning. Talk about it. It is proven that kids who are being teased at school, often feel empowered after sending love to their bullies. This is the moment to start chanting the same mantras but directed at the other. So:
May you be healthy and strong. May you be happy. May you be filled with love, light and ease.
The meditation can be finished by sending love towards the universe.
May all beings everywhere be happy.
It may seem simple, but this practice is really powerful, especially if done regularly. It can take 5 or 10-15 minutes, depending on the age of your children.
You can listen to this meditation for free also through the Insight Timer platform.
The article was originally published in Mindful Parenting, the first Australian magazine for conscious parents, Issue 4, January 2020.