Compassion is a far greater and nobler thing than pity. Pity has its roots in fear and carries a sense of arrogance and condescension, sometimes even a smug feeling of “I’m glad it’s not me.” As Stephen Levine says: “When your fear touches someone’s pain it becomes pity; when your love touches someone’s pain, it becomes compassion.” To train in compassion is to know that all beings are the same and suffer in similar ways, to honor all those who suffer, and to know that you are neither separate from nor superior to anyone.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I began feeling a sense of connection with all mothers. During difficult moments in labor and in the months that followed with their own dark challenges, I felt held by the strength of women who had come before. I imagined concentric circles of mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, radiating out in a sea of love, strength and wisdom. I saw them in their fullness and imperfections, not just as idealized mothers. Not having a relationship with my own mother, this sense of connection kept me in good company through the darker moments of mothering and also in the celebratory ones.
At times, we perhaps forget to remember this thread of compassionate connection. Sleep deprived and overwhelmed mothers too often believe that they are alone in their struggles. Judgment can arise as we measure ourselves against some imagined state of grace. The flip side – judgment against others -can leave us in a righteous state of proving our worthiness. This too creates barriers that ultimately leave us disconnected from that great circle of connection.
In the spirit of mother’s day, I wish for all mothers that we find peace in releasing the judgment that we have for ourselves and others and remember the interconnected nature of being human, of being a mother, of having a mother. This loving-kindness meditation is offered to support a practice that may bring about that deep connection with the sea of women to whom we are a part.
Loving-kindness, “metta” or compassion meditation is a meditation in which the seeds of compassion are cultivated by first conjuring up the feeling of loving kindness by reflecting on someone we hold dear and holding our deepest wishes for their happiness and freedom from suffering. Traditionally, one reflects on the self, someone who is a teacher, and a close loved one. Having conjured up that feeling of tenderness we then extend that loving kindness to someone who is neutral, perhaps a neighbor or someone who is familiar but with whom we have no real strong affection or displeasure. From there, we practice extending loving-kindness to someone with whom we consider a difficult person. Loving-kindness practice then can bring us to extend kindness to all beings. What we have learned about the experience of this practice for the two thousand years in which it has been taught, is that the practice can cultivate great peace and equanimity. We no longer feel the pain of our separation as we remember our connection. We move past conflict and anger as we soften towards those with whom we have had difficulty. Moreover, we remember that our wishing for happiness and freedom from suffering is universal.
For more instruction on Loving-kindness meditation, I recommend Pema Chodron or this guided meditation by Sharon Salzberg. The UCLA Mindfulness Research Center has a series of guided meditations as well.
Loving-kindness meditation can follow traditional formats but for many practitioners, they create their own loving-kindness phrases that are silently repeated throughout the meditation.
In the spirit of this, I offer a loving-kindness practice for Mothers Day and share with you what I hold in my thoughts on this day.
May you and your children be safe from harm.
Mothers around the world are giving birth to and caring for their children amidst great difficulties. We wish that all babies be born in a place of safety, gently and without violence, and with loving care of the family through the birth and in the tender weeks and years that follow. We wish that all mothers and their families have a safe home and community, with ample resources to meet their needs.
Even those of us who may experience abundant comforts in our lives as we welcome our children may struggle to feel safe and at ease. Especially in early parenting, our babies are extensions of our psyche. Feeling the pull of attachment to another human being in such a strong way is a powerful experience of love but also can in itself bring suffering . Our brains are wired to be vigilant to our newborns, noticing and tending to them in a heightened way. There are times when this vigilance becomes painful, and the mind cannot find ease amidst worry for our child(ren) as we imagine the dangers that may bring them harm. Wishing that all mothers know safety and that they and their families be safe from harm connects us to this universal and primal experience.
May you know peace and well-being in body & mind.
Our bodies need to have restorative sleep, nutritious food, water, shelter, emotional safety and connection with others to thrive. Mothers too often know the pain of fatigue, the physical discomforts after birth and the diminished resiliency that can arise as we stretch ourselves to capacity. May mothers everywhere have the support they need to be lovingly cared for as they care for their babies and children, easing the physical and emotional burdens that they may be experiencing.
When we are mentally at ease, we can care for our children and the world with patience, acceptance and equanimity. May those who suffer with mental anguish, addiction, and illness be supported to seek health and find relief from their suffering.
May you know freedom from judgment.
We hope to provide unconditional love to our children and see in them the seeds of perfection. Even as we guide them towards more skillfulness, we extend love and understanding that they are growing beings. When we remember to hold that love for ourselves, we are better able to extend this to others. Freedom from judgment softens the boundaries between us, and dissolves the suffering that we experience striving to measure up.
May you know the love that surrounds you and may you radiate that love towards others.
Mothering is filled with such tenderness! Indeed, many loving-kindness practices call upon this ‘mother-love’ to conjure up that feeling of well-wishing that permeates the relationship between mother and child. “Everyone is someone’s son or daughter.”
Women who wish to be mothers may suffer with longing. Mothers around the world are grieving the losses they have experienced as mothers. We may have failed to receive consistent love and kindness from our mothers. Loving-kindness finds its way into our lives through many directions. And it may be shared in many directions as well.
In the circle of connection we can be reminded of all the kindnesses that we have received and be reminded of our own basic goodness. May all beings be reminded that this loving-kindness is within us and surrounding us, limitless and vast.