In the 60s the Beatles landed a great hit with their song: All you need is love! Their message was simple. You can do anything and be who you are. It’s easy. All you need is love. Many people of course think this is just hippy nonsense. The sixties were full of that! So, let’s have a look and see what is going on here and whether there is something more to ‘all you need is love’ then just some sentimental nonsense.
As a mindfulness teacher part of my mindfulness courses always contain the practise of lovingkindness. Lovingkindness is about relational behaviour. There are three ways we can direct lovingkindness. One direction is inwards towards yourself (me and I). One direction is outwards towards another, or others (you and them) and one direction is relational (we and us).
Lovingkindness for ourselves
Let’s start with talking about the most obvious one: lovingkindness in relation to ourselves. It’s the first stage of the practice. Sadly, this is usually a very difficult stage for people to do, because in our culture we don’t really tend to be very loving or kind with ourselves. There is some kind of myth in our culture that seems to imply that loving ourselves, caring for ourselves and being kind to ourselves is out of bounds. It’s deemed selfish. There is a great emphasis on loving others, but not on ourselves. The psychological impact is that everybody else is deemed to be worthy of my love apart from me. That message creates an internal confusion about our worthiness and a sense of rejection. It creates an inability for us to take care of ourselves and turn towards ourselves with kindness when things go wrong. This then makes us very dependent on others to give us reassurance and the love that we need when we feel vulnerable. So paradoxically by labelling loving ourselves as selfish, we become more selfish, because other people have to love us instead. And they have to love us more because we feel so much more insecure anxious and unworthy a lot of the time. When we look at it from this point of view directing loving kindness toward ourselves seems a really sensible thing to do.
The relational aspect of lovingkindness
Here is something else to consider. Being kind to ourselves predisposes us to be much more able to be kind to others. By embracing ourselves fully and completely, warts and all, it is much easier to do that with other people as well. Why is that? Well, this takes us into the realm of the relational aspect of loving kindness. Have you noticed this? We tend to dislike people who display traits that we do not like in ourselves. (This is of course not true in all cases, but surprisingly often it is.) If you have not noticed this yourself, maybe investigate and see if it is true for you. It stands to reason therefore that we will find those people a lot less unattractive when we made peace with those traits within ourselves.
The great thing about the loving kindness practise is that it also allows you to work on opening your heart more towards yourself by exploring opening your heart to those people you find difficult. It’s a two-way system. You can soften your dislike of yourself considerably when you are able to embrace others who display traits you dislike. In this way difficult people can turn into teachers for our benefit and stop being difficult too. That looks like a win-win situation to me. The more I can embrace myself, the more I can accept others. The more I can feel kindness towards others, the kinder I feel about myself. The upshot of it all is, that when we become more loving and kind, people around us also soften. The famed ripple effect! When you engage with others with lovingkindness there is more cooperation and friendliness, more welcome and appreciation, more good will and tolerance. Not always, not with everyone, for sure, but in my experience there is often a marked difference in the relational field when your heart is engaged and open.
What about lovingkindness and others?
And final lets look at the third direction of lovingkindness: others. This in some ways has already been addressed in the other two but there is something I would like to mention that is maybe not so apparent from what I said before. When we practise loving kindness towards others – especially towards those who we find difficult, what do we actually achieve? It’s an internal practise after all. Nobody is asking you to do this with real people in a real situation. So what is the point? Let me ask you, when you are mad with another person, or you fear them, or you dislike them, who gets the full blast of those feelings? Mainly you, right?! So, who would benefit most from you changing your feelings about those people? You! Because when you don’t feel any strong negative feelings towards the other person you feel calm, at ease and content instead – maybe even happy.
Now your argument might be that you need those strong feelings to argue your case with these people. Actually, the opposite is true. Loving kindness does not ask you to turn into a doormat or to forfeit your values. If you approach a potential argument with another person with a loving and kind mind rather than an angry or fearful mind two things happen. Firstly, you remain more able to think straight and make your point clearly. This is due to the fact that our thinking brain and our ability to speak often gets impaired when we feel strong emotions. Secondly the other person will more likely be inclined to listen to you, because they are not getting defensive due to the energy you are directing at them. Loving kindness will not stop you being clear about your boundaries, or your values. It will help you to communicate them better.
So, the Beatles were right: All you need is love!If you feel that you could do with a boost in your practise of loving kindness and mindfulness, or you have not yet learned how to do it, join me! My next Mindfulness course will start mid April. If you book before Easter Sunday you will get 30% off.
For more information and to book go here.
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May you thrive in life!