Love Thy Neighbor

The Golden Rule

Love thy Neighbor

The Golden Rule and variations on that theme have been in effect since ancient times, from Babylon and Egypt to Greece and China.  It’s written about in the Bible, the Torah, and is found in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Jainism.

The Golden Rule and the Love thy Neighbor commandment instruct us to do unto others as we would have them to unto us. Or love the other as we love ourselves.

Often when we look at these tenets we see them as instructive in ways to treat the other. Being kind and generous to others is rewarded.  It’s even said in the yoga tradition that the path of service, or karma yoga, can lead to enlightenment. I don’t doubt that, but why is it that flight attendants have to remind us to put our own oxygen mask on in an emergency before we help others, could it be we forget to take care of ourselves in the name of service?

Let’s look at this rule or commandment more closely.  We often overlook the basis of the rule or commandment – which refers to how we’d like to be treated, or even how we treat ourselves.  Love thy neighbor as thyself.   Putting this practice into effect has to start with loving ourselves. How do you love yourself? Sometimes when people come to learn to meditate we take a look at how they treat themselves. Every one of us has thoughts in meditation or sometimes drift off in a daydream, but there are some students that are so hard on themselves when this happens – getting angry or frustrated with themselves – a habit they’ve fallen into as a way to make themselves do it right. Some people simply believe they can’t do it at all, or that there is something inherently wrong with them. Of course they can meditate, I remind them. I’ve never yet met someone who can’t.

I suggest that they practice being sweet to themselves, in and out of meditation. And by sweet, I don’t mean buying a new outfit or an ice cream, I mean actually being kind to yourself, and paying attention to yourself. Maybe you’ve forgotten your own inner loveliness. You are wise, you are kind, you are aware, and you know what is good for you on a very basic level. Being unkind to ourselves can simply be an old habit. It might come up that someone stays in a relationship that isn’t nourishing, or they say nasty things to themselves when they look in the mirror, or don’t take good care of their body, or don’t listen to their own inner wisdom. What if we treated our neighbor based on the ways that we sometimes treat (or loved) ourselves? We’d ignore them, say nasty things about them, or not care about them in some way. You see how that goes?

How we treat ourselves can inform everything we say or do. We have to become aware of it first, we each have to expand our awareness. I’ve written about really listening to yourself, discovering your intuition, asking yourself what you really want, living in tune with nature, beginning your meditation practice, and remembering to be grateful. But it all comes down to loving one’s self – which is often more difficult than it sounds. It takes practice.

There is a Buddhist meditation practice known as Loving Kindness (You don’t have to be Buddhist to do it.) It has the immediate benefit of sweetening and changing old habituated negative patterns of mind. In this simple practice, one begins with truly experiencing love for themselves, and from there, one meditates on kindness to others.

It goes like this:

  • Sit down and relax your body. Give yourself three slow, deep breaths through your nose and then let your breath return to a natural rhythm.
  • Bring your attention to your heart center, gently place your hand there if you like.
  • Take some time to cultivate a warm and gentle feeling for yourself.
  • Silently say some sweet things to yourself, with a sense of sincerity, kindness and warmth (see some examples below.)
  • Notice how your heart and mind respond. There is no need to hurry.
  • Experience your heart slowly fill with the warmth and bliss of your own loving intention.
  • After you give yourself the attention, you can then have the same intention for all beings to be well and free from suffering.
  • Keep your eyes closed for a few minutes and enjoy for a few moments your state of being.
  • Take three breaths through your nose, deeper than normal, and come back to yourself and the environment you are sitting in.

Here are some intentions I use, choose one that resonates with you, or come up with your own:

  • May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I be free from suffering.
  • I am safe. I am cared for. I am loved and all is well.
  • May I become an intimate, kind, and friendly force for myself and all of life.
  • May I be completely present in my own life.
  • May I know and experience the Divine fully.
  • I accept myself exactly as I am and exactly as I am not.
  • May I remember the universal kindness which surrounds me at every moment.
  • There is no one on earth who is more deserving of my love than me.
  • May I be on my own side and not betray myself.

The more I practice Loving Kindness, the more I learn to know myself as a person capable of warmth, of sweetness, of love and a peaceful response to life. I trust myself more and have more to give. Each act of kindness to others then becomes an act of gentleness to myself and to my own spirit.

© 2011 All Rights Reserved. Sarah McLean, Sedona Meditation Training Co. www.SedonaMeditation.com

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What is Mindfulness Anyway?

Blue BuddhaWhat are you doing right now? You are probably sitting and reading this. But what else are you doing? Thinking? Eating? Listening to music? Spending time with your family?

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

I like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness. Kabat-Zinn, if you haven’t heard of him, is the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. He also wrote the books Wherever You Go, There You Are, and Coming to our Senses

Mindfulness is a term used to describe the practice of bringing one’s awareness back (i.e. from the past or the future or distraction of any kind) into the present moment.

Mindfulness can be practiced formally as a meditation, and it is also a practice that can be done at any time. It does not require sitting a certain way, or even focusing on the breath. It does require bringing your focus on whatever is happening in the present moment, and simply noticing the mind’s usual commentary. That being said, mindfulness meditation definitely helps one’s awareness to settle down, and eventually creates a silent backdrop behind activity – this makes it easier to practice present moment awareness.

Any activity done mindfully is a form of meditation. Mindfulness can be done in almost any situation. You can be mindful of the sensations in one’s feet while walking, or the feeling of warm soapy water on the hands while doing dishes. You can also become mindful of the mind’s judgement and continual commentary: “I wish I didn’t have to walk any further, I like the sound of the leaves rustling, I wish washing dishes wasn’t so boring and the soap wasn’t drying out my skin”, etc.

Let’s look at the practice of eating mindfully – when we sit down to eat we are purposefully aware of the process of eating. We’re deliberately noticing the way our body is positioned, the sensations in our body, and the mind and body’s responses to those sensations. You might notice the mind wandering, and when it does, you can purposefully bring your attention back to the eating. Mindfulness is a continual refocusing on the present moment.

When one eats without awareness, you may in theory know you are eating, but you might be thinking about many other things at the same time, and may also be watching TV, talking, or reading – or all of those. So a very small part of our awareness is absorbed with eating, and we may be only barely aware of the physical sensations and even less aware of our thoughts and emotions. We almost miss the experience. Have you ever eaten a meal and not remembered eating the whole thing? That is the opposite of mindfulness!

Why would someone want to practice mindfulness? Well, it is one of the meditation techniques practiced and proven to be effective in many research projects leading to:

  • Increased self-awareness, self-trust, and self- acceptance
  • Enhanced appreciation of life
  • Serenity in the face of difficulties
  • Lasting decreases in a variety of stress-related physical symptoms, including chronic pain
  • Significant decreases in anxiety and depression
  • Improved concentration and creativity
  • Improved immune system functioning
  • Decreased symptoms secondary to cancer
  • More accepting attitude toward life and its challenges
  • Now who wouldn’t want that?

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