We radiate what is inside us. That is a simple principle of human existence.
If I plant the seeds for pumpkins, and cultivate pumpkins, pumpkins will grow. The same is true for whatever I plant and cultivate in my life.
If I plant and cultivate the seeds of cynicism, cynicism will grow. If I plant and cultivate the seeds of loving-kindness, loving-kindness will grow.
If I am filled with cynicism, those around me will experience my cynicism radiating out from me. If I am filled with loving-kindness, those around me will experience my loving-kindness radiating out from me. And I am filled with either cynicism or loving-kindness according to what I plant and cultivate each day. This principle seems so simple.
What seeds shall I plant and cultivate today? Consequently, what shall I radiate today?
My decision about planting. cultivating, and radiating will determine how I choose to live today. This is why I must begin my day planting seeds of loving-kindness into my own being.
As I go through the curriculum of classes, readings, discussions with the global community of the Compassion Institute, and daily guided meditations, I am in the week where we focus on loving-kindness for ourselves. The first three times I listened through this week’s guided meditation I noticed that my mind tuned out for the closing intentions. Mind-wandering once or twice is no surprise, but three times in a row? I sensed something was up.
So I stopped trying to be led through the loving-kindness for self meditation and went back to simply listen and record what my mind was resisting. I had to know what was triggering my unconscious resistance. If we do not know our own resistance, how can we work with it? What I found really surprised me, and was something I needed to know.
The phrases I kept missing, intended to help me set my daily intention for loving-kindness of self, were these: “I take joy in who I am. I shall be a friend to myself. I rejoice in the celebration of my life.”
Why did my mind resist letting these simple phrases in? After reflecting on the question for several days, new light emerged. My basic orientation in life is toward others. I am very comfortable focusing attention toward the needs of others, and remarkably unaware of the needs of William. (This made my roles as a psychotherapist and spiritual director for decades easy, because the focus was always on the other).
I can just look at another being and see their innate goodness, sense their struggles, and feel compassion and loving-kindness for them. But ask me to focus positive thoughts on myself, to “take joy in who I am,” this is amazingly uncomfortable territory.
I know the easy stuff, like my favorite chocolate candy and coffee drink and brand of cinnamon rolls for breakfast. And I know how to judge the hell out of myself by seeing my faults with ease. But taking joy in my being, and befriending myself, seems altogether different. And hard!
And I don’t mean to say, “Hey, everybody look at how great I am. I care about everyone.” I struggle with judgments of others like everyone. (Wonder if that could be connected to how easily I listen to judgments of myself? I mean the voice of the Inner Critic is like my best friend at times).
Do you think I have some work ahead if I am going to plant and cultivate and radiate the seeds of loving-kindness for myself and others? Apparently! Perhaps I better give myself the next year to work with this process, continue my daily guided meditations, and see how this is coming in a year.
And just to be clear, I may not be the only person who struggles with this gap between wishing my own well-being and wishing the well-being of others. The whole sequence of the eight-week coursework of the Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) through Stanford University’s Compassion Institute had to be redesigned because this issue was so common in North America.
To see if I was the only one who struggles with this locally, I asked the question at one of the most loving places I know around New Orleans, Project Lazarus, (the residential AIDS treatment community). In the morning meeting with staff, residents, and volunteers I shared this story, shared the intentions, and asked if anyone there is just like me. Immediately, several residents and staff members affirmed the truth for themselves. Many of us, despite caring for others, seem to suck at self-love and to excel at self-judgment.
One resident/friend said he believes it is part of the training in many Christian churches: “Put God first, others second, and yourself last.” (I heard the same thing growing up). Where did that craziness come from, when Jesus said, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself”? Who decided it is Christian to put ourselves down? And with all that constant focus on sin every single week at Christian churches across the nation, you would think the good news Jesus came to bring was: “You are very bad. You were born in badness. God cannot bear to look on your badness.” (Just to put a stamp of approval on this twisting of the “good news,” Christianity gave a title to this story: “original sin.”)
At Project Lazarus we agreed there could be another way. Even if it is hard, we agreed we all need some practice in taking joy in who we are and befriending ourselves. One staff member, Karen, even shared a beautiful way to conceive of this work, this loving-kindness for self, with a quote from poet/philosopher/author Mark Nepo: “I marry my self: to have and to hold from this day forward, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, to love and to cherish, ’till death do us part.” Wow!
Today I aspire to love myself. That means I will plant and cultivate the seeds of loving-kindness for myself, and hope to radiate the same to others. In fact, in principle, I know that if I “take joy in who I am” and “befriend myself,” I will radiate that.
We will see where I am with this in a year. Transformation takes time. And I will not get there on my own.
I will need a community who also practices the presence of the Source of loving-kindness, a contemplative community, a place to take refuge. I will need to gather with others who are non-judgmental, compassionate, and willing to engage with this journey of transformation. We will plant and cultivate seeds of loving-kindness together.
We will gather in places like the Friends Meeting for Quaker worship, the Ignatius Chapel at Loyola University, and Rayne’s Epiphany House, (see photos), as well as the Advent House, Mercy Endeavors senior center, Ochsner hospital’s chapel, the homes of friends, and Mt. Zion’s Open Table ministry with street friends. We will become radiance together.
May you too, in your way, plant and cultivate these seeds: take joy in who you are, befriend yourself, and become radiance.