Today we begin our meditation by dropping a false reason to meditate. Then we will examine a good reason for meditating today, and close with a practice.
This is not about making you a better person, so you can drop that intention right now. There are already far too many self-improvement schemes being sold in our culture, all based in the myth that you are not good enough. They promise to make you a better person if you will only buy the product, get the surgery, use that diet, believe correctly, etc.
Meditation can be turned into the same old message of becoming a “better” person if you will meditate each day. And this is a false motivation for practicing meditation.
In our weekly meditation group for staff at the Ochsner hospital this week, our friend Debbie, a well-respected and dedicated nurse there, shared a reading to begin our 20 minutes of silent meditation, as she often does. The reading really touched me and so I share it here:
Don’t meditate to fix yourself, to improve yourself, to redeem yourself; rather, do it as an act of love, of deep friendship to yourself. In this way there is no longer any need for the subtle aggression of self-improvement, for the endless guilt of not doing enough. It offers the possibility of an end to the ceaseless round of trying so hard that wraps so many people’s lives in a knot. Instead there is now meditation as an act of love. How endlessly delightful and encouraging.*
Now we’re talking! Now we have hit on a true motivation to meditate each day. This commitment to a daily spiritual practice as an act of love is something I can embrace. How about you? I choose to cultivate compassion for myself and others because this is what I believe we all need, especially these days.
In a culture stirred by daily images of hate, when hate has come out of the closet and shown itself openly, when news stations are reveling in growing ratings from all of us who are becoming addicted to the daily news feed, there must be another way to live. And I believe compassion cultivation is that way.
Compassion cultivation is another name for the call to “love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and being, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Compassion cultivation is not to assuage our guilt for not being “good enough.” Compassion cultivation is an act of love, a choice to live in a way that creates grace, love, acceptance of ALL my brothers and sisters, and the simple desire for us all to be free from our suffering.
I will begin a year-long teacher training program for compassion cultivation created by the staff of the Compassion Institute from Stanford University this fall. I will spend a year with Dr. Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama’s principal English translator, and the core faculty for the program. They will help about 50 of us from around the world to learn to teach an eight-week course in compassion cultivation.
But this next year is not about becoming better people, fixing ourselves, or overcoming our imperfections. This year will be dedicated as an act of love, a gift to ourselves and our world. This year will be to learn a specific way to cultivate compassion, to integrate a variety of daily meditations and a growing collection of research data on the benefits of cultivating compassion. I hope to graduate as a certified teacher of Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) by this time next summer. But this challenging path will not be to make me a better person, to fix my broken humanity, or to help me finally get compassion right.
I begin this training journey as I began my meditation this morning: as an act of love, and a gift to myself and the world. I am aligning myself with a calling that began 25 years ago, when I clearly knew I was called to a life of prayer for the world. And I have slowly realized the life of prayer is a life of cultivating compassion by connecting each day with the Source of Love.
Holding space for the Sacred is the heart of my daily meditation. Making room for the Sacred to appear is how I want to live my days. This is not a duty, a guilt, another form of self-improvement. This is a dedication, a choice to live in a certain way, a desire to ground myself in a daily connection to the Source, which helps me stay close to my center during the day. And this is a simple act of love, for myself and the world’s sake.
So when you grow weary of the daily news addiction, when your stomach is tired of the flood of adrenaline that comes from hateful images all day long, when you just can’t take another preacher telling you what a sinner you are and how angry God is with you: Stop.
There is another way. There is another path. And this one is not about becoming a better person. This path is just an act of love.
Begin now, as you are, to open your heart to the Source of compassion, who only wants to flow into you and through you. Decide now to let the Source freely use you as a channel of compassion for the world.
Practice: Take time to draw in a few deep breaths. Then breathe naturally. Be aware of the flow of breath as your chest expands and contracts. Let yourself know the Source is filling you with the Breath of Life, flowing into and through you with this breath. Then, direct the outbreath toward another person as an act of love. Choose someone who needs love and compassion now. Let yourself feel a warm light of compassion around your heart. Direct that warm light toward the one who needs compassion with each outbreath. As you do so, silently say in your heart: “May you be happy, free from suffering, and know peace.” Repeat that quietly several times. See them receiving the gift. Continue being aware of the breath, aware of the warm light flowing into and out from you as long as you like.
Live this way today.
*The quote is an excerpt from “Meditation: Calming the Mind” by Bob Sharples.