Do you find it a bit much doing lovingkindness practice every day? Do you feel the need to stay in balance by doing other practices, like mindfulness of breathing? I don’t blame you!
In our last special project, which was to meditate for 100 days (the 100 Day Meditation Challenge) we got about a week into it and then I realized I’d become a bit clearer about the intention behind the challenge. It’s happened again!
Someone wrote in our Google+ Community (a place where people are sharing their experiences of participating in 100 Days of Lovingkindness and giving each other support and encouragement) saying that she was getting a bit bored by doing only one practice, and losing her focus and awareness.
And this reminded me that when I’m teaching people meditation I always encourage them to alternate the mindfulness of breathing and development of lovingkindness practices. The two practices are complimentary: mindfulness of breathing brings clarity, calmness, and a better perception of what’s going on within us. Lovingkindness practice helps us to be more patient and forgiving with ourselves as we do this, and to be kinder toward whatever experiences we find. It’s like having a left and a right leg; you can make good progress by hopping on one leg, but it gets rather tiring after a while.
In presenting this opportunity to focus on lovingkindness practice for 100 days, I didn’t have in mind either that people would do nothing but lovingkindness meditations, or that they would be able to sustain doing two full-length sits every day. So the suggestion was that in order to honor our commitment to daily lovingkindness practice we’d do a minimum of five minutes of seated practice. Now this could be five minutes of lovingkindness before doing mindfulness of breathing or (and this will make more sense for many people) do five minutes after.
But why limit yourself? You could do three minutes at the start and two at the end. Or you could (if you’re doing the four stage version) do a minute of lovingkindness at the start of each stage and one at the end. Or you could simply blend the two practices, by cultivating a loving gaze, and observing your breathing throughout the practice in that kindly way. I’m inventing the terms “Breathingkindness” and “Kindfulness of Breathing” to describe this approach to meditation.
It’s certainly not helpful, and completely contrary to the spirit of metta, to be rigid with ourselves. Although some kind of commitment to practice is vital, the attitude with which we do that practice is vital. It has to be kind, patient, and forgiving.[Read the previous 100 Days of Lovingkindness post]