How To Become a Loving Presence in the World

Steve Goodheart Essay

Practicing loving-kindness, like mindfulness, isn’t just for our private meditation time or prayers. With practice, loving-kindness can actually become a way of being, a spirit of love that animates all our actions.

If we open up our eyes and our hearts, we can find countless ways during the day to practice acts of loving-kindness. Indeed, whatever changes take place in our minds and hearts during sitting or walking meditation should naturally show up in our way of being in the world and how we interact with others.

Even loving-kindness meditation, as wonderful as it is for opening up the heart’s horizons and the power of love, is no substitute for living love. If we go from a meditative session of sending love and well-wishes to all beings, and then “lose consciousness” and forget to bring kindness, patience, and compassion to the people and situations we actually encounter in life, we are missing 98% of our practice. And this is true whether we are Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, humanist, atheist, or whatever!

If we want to be a kinder, more compassionate heart in the world, then we need at least two elements: first, the aspiration to be more of a loving presence in the world, and second, a willingness to practice presence so that our hearts don’t miss the opportunity to embrace what’s going on.

Oh, and no doubt we’ll need lots of patience and forgiveness of ourselves!  Because even with the best intentions, it’s easy to “fall asleep” or lapse into our own reactivity to difficult people and situations.

Whenever I head out the door of my apartment, I stop, even if it’s for a moment, and do a “heart check.” I embrace in my heart the sincere aspiration that my thoughts and actions be a blessing in the world. One of the line’s in Shantideva’s Bodhisattva Vows is the aspiration that “when anyone encounters me, may it never be meaningless for him.”

If we see others with loving-kindness, hold them in loving-kindness, and feel tender toward them and our common humanity, then even a chance encounter with someone will not have been meaningless for the other person, or for ourselves. Consciously, or unconsciously, others will feel the embrace of our loving presence, our compassion, our sense of shared humanity with them.

As people pass by us, we can make the effort to be a really see them, even if just for a moment, rather than being just caught up in the drama and rush of our own thoughts and feelings. Some days, you may just naturally feel a great love for everyone and everything you see. Other times, you may find you have to make a real effort to even notice others, let alone radiate any feelings of loving-kindness and compassion toward them. That’s OK. Just notice that and compassionately look into what your indifference or aversion are all about.

If you find yourself cut off from others, it may be because you are cut off from your own heart, and aren’t feeling much love for yourself, let alone other people. If you can notice this, then maybe the best thing you can do on your walk or drive is try to hold yourself in some sort of loving-kindness.

Actually, this self-love may be the kindest thing you can do for others, because if you’re learning how to love yourself—or at least admitting that you could love yourself!—you are going to be a nicer person to be around. Others feel this love, even if it’s not directed at them. Love just radiates, and sensitive hearts will feel it, even if its directed inwardly.

Sometimes I actually say to myself when I see someone, “May you be happy! May you have great goodness in your life!” This is especially easy if the person’s demeanor or circumstance evoke compassion.  If you keep working with your heart, there will also be times when you just love for others simply because they are—just because it is such a miracle to be alive and to share this amazing world together.

When you see big masses of people, on the freeway, or on the subway, or on busy city streets, remember that these are the very people you were sending loving-kindness to when you were sitting mindfully and sending out the radiant wish, “May all beings everywhere be happy!

Loving-kindness is natural to our awakening hearts, but it can’t be forced. Some days we may feel angry, grumpy, irritated. The last thing we want to think about or notice is “others.” Satre famously said, “Hell is other people.” Well, hell is us, when our unexamined state of mind is aversion to other people!

When we don’t feel like love or loving, what’s going on? What’s that about? Be curious. Look into it. See what happens when you hold your aversion to others mindfully in thought—not judgmentally, but with tender compassion and curiosity.

You may or may not get psychological insight that helps you to change, but in a way, that doesn’t matter. From the Buddhist standpoint, what is important is that you work with your breath, mindfully watching the appearing and disappearing of feelings in your body.  As you do this, you can begin to see through the apparent solidness of those feelings. You can begin to see for yourself the impermanence and changeability of your feelings.  They have no solid basis in us, but come and go like leaves in the wind.

As your sense that your painful, adverse feelings lack real solidity grows, you can relax into your breath.  You can just be. Your heart begins to open up.  You can begin to let go because you aren’t adding the idea of “me” or “mine” to those feelings. You’re not even looking at the feelings as yours, or not yours, but rather seeing them impersonally as what needs to be comprehended with loving insight.

The Buddha describes the process this way:

“In the sky, O monks, various kinds of winds are blowing: winds from the east, west, north and south, winds carrying dust and winds without dust, winds hot and cold, gentle and fierce. Similarly, monks, there arise in this body various kinds of feelings: pleasant feelings arise, painful feelings arise and neutral feelings arise.

“Just as in the sky above winds of various kinds are blowing:
Coming from the east or west, blowing from the north or south,
Some carry dust and others not, cold are some and others hot,
Some are fierce and others mild — their blowing is so different.

So also in this body here, feelings of different kind arise:
The pleasant feelings and the painful and the neutral ones.

But if a monk is ardent and does not neglect
To practice mindfulness and comprehension clear,
The nature of all feelings will he understand,
And having penetrated them, he will be taint-free in this very life.”

Vedana-Samyutta

Loving-kindness and penetrating insight work hand-in-hand to free us from whatever would keep us from loving more. If you aspire to be more of a loving presence in the world and practice, you will transform. But be patient! Don’t judge yourself harshly if change seems slow. When you feel cut off from your feelings, see if you can look within and comprehend what’s there, or not there, as honestly and compassionately as you can. Regular meditation practice is a huge help in developing the concentration and mindfulness to do this when we are not “on the cushion,” so to speak.

The aspiration to be a loving presence in the world is like sunshine pouring down on the rose that is our heart. The warmth and energy of sustained, patient loving-kindness will cause our hearts to blossom. Maybe we see our hearts as a tight, closed rosebuds, with only the promise of big, blooming love. Maybe all we can see right now are thorns on a barren branch!

That’s OK. Don’t give up! Everyone one of us can bloom! Don’t underestimate what mindful, compassionate, discerning love can do. The deep aspiration to be a loving presence in this world can even make buds appear where no buds seem to be right now. And if our tender hearts have been terribly damaged or hurt by the cruelties, disappointments, and sorrows of the world, even that can be healed by the skillful means of an awakening heart and mind.

The power of loving-kindness should never be underestimated. As the Buddha said:

“Of all the ways you can think of, none has a sixteenth part of the value of loving-kindness. Loving-kindness is a freedom of the heart which takes in all the ways. It is luminous, shining, blazing forth.

Just as the stars have not a sixteenth part of the moon’s brilliance, which absorbs them all in its shining light, so loving-kindness absorbs all the other ways with its lustrous splendor.

Just as when the rainy season ends and the sun rises up into the clear and cloudless sky, banishing all the dark in its radiant light, and just as at the end of a black night the morning star shines out in glory, so none of the ways you can use to further your spiritual progress has a sixteenth part of the value of loving-kindness. For it absorbs them all, its luminosity shining forth.”

-Itivuttaka Sutta

May this post be an inspiration to your dear heart and your aspirations to awaken it!

♥♥♥

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About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

5 Responses to “How To Become a Loving Presence in the World”

  1. Thank you, it is an inspiration and I won’t give up. ❤

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