A few weeks ago, I re-opened one of my all time favourite books, “A Path With Heart” by Jack Kornfield. This was the course text that was used in my Clinical Counseling course while I was studying TCM and it really opened my eyes to the fact that I needed to work on my Emotional Intelligence.
It is always such a treat reading the book over again because for whatever reason, even though I’ve read it numerous times, I always learn something new or acquire some new understanding. What I noticed this time around was that I really appreciate how the first chapter of the book begins by talking about cultivating a kind, loving and caring heart and how in the second chapter he discusses the importance of stopping the war and stopping the fighting attitude we may have against ourselves, our lives or others.
I decided to make a commitment to myself to begin to pay more careful attention to the arising of these feelings during my day. Whenever the “fighting attitude” would arise, I would ask myself “How does my physical body feel in this state?” and “Where do I feel it the most?” then I would work on letting it go. When I felt a more kind and caring heart arise, once again I would ask myself “How does my body feel in this state?” and “Where do I feel it?”. In this case I would allow the feeling stay and I would actually try and recall that sensation through all my activities.
After doing the practice for about a week, I started to realize how physically uncomfortable the “war-like” attitude had on my body while the kind attitude created a light, open, soft and warm sensation in the body. These pleasant sensations felt similar but also a bit different from what I experience with relaxation techniques. They seemed to arise from a deeper space. It then occurred to me that when we are working on the physical practices of a Body Scan or Breath practice, if we are approaching them with a lack of kindness and a sense of dislike or hate towards ourselves, we may experience some benefit but the benefits won’t be as deep. It also dawned on me that this could be the reason why Jack Kornfield introduces the practice of “Mindfulness of Breathing” later on in his book. It is because he wants to make sure we are coming from the right space!
So how does one begin to get in touch with this kind and caring heart? Jack Kornfield mentions the traditional practice of Metta (Loving-Kindness) which involves repeating phrases like…
May I be filled with loving-kindness
May I be well
May I be peaceful and at ease
May I be happy
He suggests repeating the phrases over and over for 15-20 minutes once or twice daily. If words aren’t your thing, my own teacher Catherine Jetsun-Yeshe Rathbun, used to also suggest imagining a rose coloured light in your chest while humming at your heart. Finally, there is yet another way to connect with this quality. It is by remembering or recalling a time when you did something good. Jack Kornfield reminds us that these deeds need not be grandiose and may in fact be remarkably simple.
Any of these meditations can be used as a starting point to developing a kind heart for yourself and then it can be extended out to others in order to help your social interactions. Please feel free to try any of these techniques on their own, before a formal session of breath practice or anytime in your daily life!