“Contemporary scientific knowledge solidly affirms
that kindness and compassion are to the brain
what the breath is to life.”
In the end of the 70s, like all young men in the Netherlands, I had to join military service for some time. I had just started to meditate and decided to refuse on pacifistic grounds. I managed and after an alternative social service of 18 months, I went to South-East Asia for travelling and for a longer meditation retreat in Thailand.
When I look back at that period of time I notice a remarkable contradiction. Even though I had enhanced and was devoted to peace and harmony in the world, in my meditation practice I didn’t experience this at all. Most of the time I was fighting thoughts, unexpected sounds, physical sensations and unpleasant emotions. My practice could be a real war zone, it is a miracle that I didn’t get exhausted by practising meditation. Sometimes teachers would carefully suggest the practice of metta- or loving kindness meditation but I would usually quickly turn this down. That was too soft, I only wanted to focus on wisdom and enlightenment, even though I hardly knew what that meant.
It took many years before I started to understand the deeper value of kindness. Not only in the practice of meditation but also in daily life, as may be expressed in the quote by Daniel Siegel, professor of psychiatry for children, author and promotor of neuro research.
I know I am not the only one who has had to follow a long road to this understanding. Most Westerners seem to struggle and especially have difficulty in becoming kind to themselves. Jack Kornfield expresses this in The Wise Heart (Bantam, 2009): ‘I used to think that to become free, you had to practice like a samurai warrior. But now I understand that we can practice like a devoted and caring mother of a newborn child. It takes the same energy but has a completely different quality. It’s compassion and presence rather than having to defeat the enemy in battle.’
In the practice of mindfulness, the quality of kindness is already implicitly present in the allowing and acknowledging attitude to what we experience. In Buddhist psychology, this absence of aversion is called adosa. In the practice of loving kindness meditation it is developed in a more explicit way. In that case it is named as metta.
Both types of kindness are referred to as very wholesome. Mindfulness may function as a washing powder, by which we start to see more clearly what is going on. Because of this all kind of understanding and healing processes start to evolve. Kindness in the practice may be considered as a fabric softener, bringing more flexibility and gentleness in this healing process. We may not need to choose only the practice of mindfulness or only the practice of kindness meditation. Both meditation practices are be valuable and support each other in a complementary way.
A western student once asked the Indian meditation teacher Dipa Ma whether one should practice mindfulness meditation or metta-meditation. Dipa Ma answered the following: ‘From my experience there is no difference. When you are fully loving, aren’t you also mindful? When you are fully mindful, is this not also the essence of love?’ So let us practise kindfulness.
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