Why mindfulness meditation? What is that first, fundamental flicker that ignites continued interest and then the possibility of sustained commitment to mindfulness practice? I would offer the proposition: lovingkindness is that first flicker. As we start practice, finding that flicker in the first five minutes is essential to our continuing attention.
Surprised? So often there is a preconception that mindfulness, or any meditative practice, starts with a certain gritting of ones psychic teeth and taking up a discipline that may be forced: maintaining right posture, watching one’s breath, forcing the mind to focus, etc. etc. These disciplines can be of service to us. But, sustaining commitment to them may be hard, if not impossible, unless we have a good answer for why we are committing in the first place.
My best childhood piano teacher understood this. Before this teacher, I had 2 earlier teachers who knew only that practice makes perfect. With each of them, I would suffer through scales and dull repetitive training pieces. None of it really took, of course, because I had a million reasons to not practice, starting with boredom. My best teacher used similar classical piano teaching tools—but always with something more. He would start the first five minutes of our lessons by reminding me: “I’m not teaching you how to play the piano, I’m teaching you to play.” With that, he would sit at the piano for a few minutes and unleash his artistry by playing a short piece or a few bars of something longer. After that, the lesson that followed and subsequent home practice were very close to the top of my priority list because I not only knew why I wanted to play, but I could feel the music in my gut.
The lovingkindness of mindfulness practice is something like my piano teacher’s approach. It is not a romantic response, a kind of Hallmark Card kind of experience. It is much more enduring, selfless and practical. When we let the dust of our lives settle there is room to ask ourselves: what is it that we deep down intend for ourselves? The innate response is intention to treat ourselves with kindness, peace, compassion, safety–laying down that daily burden of performing the roles of who we’re supposed to be. This intention forms the safe and fertile ground from which awareness of our essential aliveness comes to bloom. It infuses our practice and our lives, including all the necessary discipline, with the love and respect we owe ourselves, our own inherent wisdom leading to our truth, and out to our loved ones, friends, communities–ultimately the world as a whole.
May all beings be well and secure,
May all beings be happy!