As those of you who are familiar with lovingkindness meditation already know, it is a practice that provides us with significant and profound benefits. It can bring greater awareness of our true nature, catapulting us out of what Tara Brach calls the ”Trance of Unworthiness” and into the light of our true identities. Lovingkindness practice can help us become stronger; that in turn enables us to bring more energy and staying power to our efforts at helping our suffering world.

Lovingkindness “on the cushion” is an ideal, really. We bring to mind and express our finest, purest, most loving thoughts and direct them to all sorts of people in our lives, both close and far off. We even take the time to express lovingkindness to those with whom we are stuck in regular conflict, just to remind ourselves that we are all together in this life and that even those who give us trouble have the same fears and needs that we have. The vagaries and inevitable insults that life slings at us daily seldom show up in full force during such gentle and quiet times. In short, we are at our sweetest when we are practicing Metta, or Lovingkindness. Our most spiritually informed self is being given the lion’s share of our attention.

But out there in the real world jungle we encounter tremendous suffering, impatience, hatred, and clinging. You and your best intentions are misunderstood and you lose that spiritual edge. You fall back into the conflict with your “difficult person,” who was recently reminding you to do better when you were on the cushion but is making you angry in the here and now.

Just as we train ourselves during meditation to notice when we are thinking and bring ourselves back into presence, we can similarly become conditioned to wake up off the cushion. It is helpful to remember that we do not become saints just because we have been meditating for a while. Spiritual practice just enables us to become more conscious versions of ourselves, but with the same issues, dark sides and vulnerabilities. We have better tools, that’s all.

Life can get to us all. It got to us before we started meditating and it will keep doing so as long as we are alive. When we remind ourselves, however, to STOP, just as we do on the cushion, we give ourselves the opportunity of letting go of an unwise response to something that is triggering us. Then we can move back into the position of the “witness,” where we simply observe what is happening without being knocked off balance by it.

Assuming the position of the witness will work much better if we aren’t multitasking. We are well served to try to let go of everything when we are coming back into presence. So if you’re stewing about a conversation you recently had while you’re washing the dishes and realize that you have become pretty upset, stop the dishes. Take a minute, close your eyes and regroup. The dishes will be there when you return to yourself. Coming back to presence works best when that is all you’re doing.

It’s easy – inevitable, perhaps – to become undone by life, but these tools of mindfulness and lovingkindness can help us remember how things really are, both in and out of ourselves, if we only remember to stop and wake up to them. Think of those off-the-cushion awakenings as being the same kind of experience as those when you’re actually doing formal meditation. When we see we have gone away, it enables us to come back.

Dr. James Kraut

My passion is to help guide you if you have chosen to look profoundly into the questions of your life. My goal is to help you get to the point where your existence on this wonderful planet has become a richer, deeper, and more meaningful process. Every story is unique and I would love to learn about yours.

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