REACH is a webzine devoted to helping people live more consciously, offering articles and tips on health, community, the environment, and personal productivity and growth.

The Practice of Lovingkindness

Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, talks about forgiveness as a way to reduce aggression. In her book The Places that Scare You, she describes a mindfulness meditation practice that focuses on compassion and the cultivation of maitri, or lovingkindness. This seven-step meditation involves creating simple statements of aspiration that begin with ourselves and expand in widening circles to encompass the universe:

First, we extend compassion to ourselves. “May I be free of suffering and the root of all suffering.”

In Stage 2, we think of our beloved, someone it is easy to love without condition, such as our child, our partner or our closest friend.

In Stage 3, we focus on a friend or acquaintance, someone whom we care about, but for whom we may have ambivalent feelings or the occasional “issue.”

In Stage 4, we select an anonymous, neutral person, someone who has little or no emotional significance to us. “May the checkout person at Whole Foods be free of suffering and the root of all suffering.” “May the homeless man on the corner be free of suffering and the root of all suffering.”

Article Continued…

In the fifth stage, we turn to those “difficult ones.”—the people who have wronged us. These are the protruding splinters in our lives, the ones who are just unavoidably there. It can be a challenge to say, “May my evil boss be free of suffering and the root of all suffering,” but this is the heart and soul of forgiveness practice. (A good sense of humor helps.)

In the 6th stage, we group all of the people from the first five stages together. This stage may seem superfluous, but if we can connect the people who are easy to forgive with those who are not, we can begin to develop true compassion. This is where barriers disappear. We see that no one is immune from suffering, even those who have hurt us. When our worst enemy stands beside our best friend in the forgiveness lineup, something subtle but powerful starts to change in our hearts.

In the 7th stage, we extend this compassion to the world at large. “May all beings everywhere be free of suffering and the root of all suffering.”

Although this practice emphasizes compassion without bias or conditions, it is just as effective as a forgiveness practice, because it helps us to recognize that those who have hurt us have also been hurt.