You can’t simply dictate the heart. Lovingkindness, goodwill, and compassion naturally arise from our meditation practice, but feeling compassion is not the end of the path. The next step is love in action.
The disarming power of metta (lovingkindness) and karuna (compassion) is this onward-leading interplay of appropriate responses. This great medicine of the heart and awareness has the capacity and the power to nurture your inner life, creating belonging like nothing else, revealing more of our humanity, more of our kindness. And as we deepen into the nonself nature of interbeing, leading to the sure heart’s release, it’s that inner and outer transformation grounded in the power of our dharma practice and awareness that can lead to engagement. It’s ultimately knowing that love liberates. Maybe with this type of engagement with the world, we can effect collective change.
With our practice firmly grounded in the noble eightfold path and embodying metta and karuna, there are many ways to express love in action on a day-to-day basis: reaching out to friends and family to support them, seeking support, and voting. It’s beginning the day with the intention of noticing our projections we have of others. It’s becoming familiar with our habits and patterns and conditioning so that we can uproot them. It’s serving the community in a variety of ways, whether that’s direct frontline action, making calls, writing letters, or writing checks. It’s starting where you are with what you have.
Feeling compassion is not the end of the path. The next step is love in action.
One of my favorite childhood memories is of my grandfather, who was a deacon at a church. He would give what was called the report on the sick and the shut-in, as they called it at that time. He would start off like this: “Our brothers and sisters are shut in but will not be shut out of our hearts.” This church program that he led was called The Good Samaritan, and the Good Samaritans were those folks who served those who were sick, who were in need, without resources, food, money, who could no longer come to church because of old age or because they were living in a senior home. Some were grieving and mourning, others incarcerated. There was this team from the community attending directly to these folks, bringing food, cleaning houses, maintaining yards and property, praying for them, singing to them, talking with them, so that they always remained a part of the community and were resourced and connected.
Their names would be read, and all the hands in the church would be connected, touching in this symbolic radiating of goodwill and kindness, allowing themselves to be touched by the misfortune and the suffering of others. My grandfather always said that his role with the ministry was to know them and to embrace them heart-to-heart.
Years after my grandfather died, I received a few of his notes, and one of them said: “One day, I will surely die, and I’ll die having known a good life and having tended to my heart, yet I could still love more. And I would especially love others more. And I would let this love express itself as a concern for my neighbors, my friends, and everybody that I come in touch with over the phone and then my letters to the prisoners. I would let this love permeate me, overcome me, overwhelm me, and then direct me as we attend to the community.”
That’s love in action.
There are many ways to express love in action, and they begin with mindfulness. They begin with awareness. They begin with our ability to touch our suffering and the suffering of others. They begin with the heartfelt wish: May all beings—including us—be happy, and may all beings be free from suffering. May all beings be happy and peaceful. May they be safe and protected. May they live with ease and well-being. And may all beings awaken and be free.
I invite you to settle in as best you can in whatever posture you’re in. Notice your bottom on the cushion or your back against the chair, unclench your jaw, lower your shoulders, and take a couple of deep breaths. I invite you to come into stillness, closing your eyes if you’re comfortable, and when you’re ready, take a few slow, deep breaths, letting the breath ground you, arriving right here and right now.
Bring to mind someone in your life who’s having difficulty; someone that you care about. Still connected with breath and body, take a moment to sense the nature of their difficulty and what that might be like for them. See if you can look at the world from this person’s eyes, feel with their heart; see if you can get a sense of what it’s like from the inside—what it’s like to be living in their circumstances. Staying connected to breath and body, ask yourself, What’s the hardest thing for this person? What’s most disappointing? What’s hurtful or scary? What’s the most challenging situation this person is living with?
Still connected to breath and body, sense and feel underneath the words that arise from the point of view of that person. What’s the belief here—that I’ll never get what I want? That I’m failing? That I’m somehow unlovable? How does this person feel that experience in their heart? From the inside out, you might get a sense of what, in this place of vulnerability, they most need or want.
There are many ways to express love in action, and they begin with mindfulness.
Now come back to your own presence, but still sensing that you can feel this person within you as you’re breathing in and breathing out, contacting that vulnerability. With the outbreath, see if you can offer a bit of what’s needed. Perhaps that person needs to be cared for, or they wish to be understood. See if you can breathe in their pain, and as you breathe out, offer your presence and tenderness. Offer your care. “May you be held in the arms of compassion. May you be free of pain. May you be well.” Or maybe simply offer: “I’m sorry, and I love you.”
Feel in your heart this vulnerability and sense the possibility of widening your awareness to include all those who might be suffering in the same way, all those who might be experiencing the same rejection, the same feelings of disappointment or failure. Breathe in for all those who are suffering and allow yourself to be touched by their current vulnerability. Breathe out, letting the heartbeat transform their sorrow: “May all beings be free of suffering. May all beings be free of pain and sorrow. May all beings be well. May all beings be at peace.”
Feeling the heart space, recognizing awareness and whatever is moving through you right now—whether that’s tenderness or numbness or tiredness, happiness, or sadness—just let those feelings arise and pass like waves unfolding in this very tender and open heart. Then, when you’re ready, you can open your eyes.
May you be happy and peaceful. May you be safe and protected. May you live with ease and well-being. And may we all awaken and be free.
Adapted from Devin Berry’s Dharma Talk, “Metta and Karuna: Two Heart Practices to Cultivate in Meditation and Daily Life”
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