Our emotions are tied to the functioning of our immune system and the more we are able to turn negative feeling states into positive ones, the better we will be at improving immune function to keep us healthy. Loving-kindness is a meditation practice, which brings about positive attitudinal changes as it systematically develops the quality of 'loving-acceptance'. It acts, as it were, as a form of self-psychotherapy, a way of healing the troubled mind to free it from its pain and confusion. When you ask for forgiveness, you are not condoning what was done to you or what you did to others, you are only allowing yourself to get rid of the guilt and anger, two very destructive emotions that can negatively impact your health. So let’s get started…
The practice always begins with developing a loving acceptance of yourself. If resistance is experienced then it indicates that feelings of unworthiness are present. No matter, this means there is work to be done, as the practice itself is designed to overcome any feelings of self-doubt or negativity. Then you are ready to systematically develop loving-kindness towards others.
Four Types of Persons to develop loving-kindness towards:
- a respected person - such as a spiritual teacher;
- a dearly beloved - which could be a close family member or friend;
- a neutral person - somebody you know, but have no special feelings towards, e.g. a person who serves you in a shop;
- a hostile person - someone you are currently having difficulty with.
Starting with yourself, then systematically sending loving-kindness from person to person in the above order will have the effect of breaking down the barriers between the four types of people and yourself. This will have the effect of breaking down the divisions within your own mind, the source of much of the conflict we experience.
Start by finding a quiet place, sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Take a few minutes to notice your body from head to toe. Pay attention to your breathing and become aware of any transient thoughts and feelings. Try to watch your thoughts and feelings without judgment. If you find your mind judging, just notice the judging and label it ‘judging’ – then move on.
Picture yourself in your mind’s eye and tell yourself, “I love you unconditionally. I forgive you for whatever pain you may have caused me in the past, intentionally, or unintentionally. However you have caused me pain in the past, I forgive you.” Sit for a few minutes and just notice how your feel.
Then, shift your attention to a person in your life that you respect and picture their face in your mind. Say to that person, “I love you unconditionally. Please forgive me for whatever pain I may have caused you in the past, intentionally, or unintentionally. However I have caused you pain in the past, please forgive me.” Again, notice any thoughts or feelings.
Bring your awareness to someone you love, or groups of people you love, and say, “I love you unconditionally. Please forgive me for whatever pain I may have caused you in the past, intentionally, or unintentionally. However I have caused you pain in the past, please forgive me.”
Next, picture someone who is just an acquaintance that you have no real relationship with like a shop owner, waitress, etc. and after picturing that person in your mind, say, “I love you unconditionally. Please forgive me for whatever pain I may have caused you in the past, intentionally, or unintentionally. However I have caused you pain in the past, please forgive me.”
Finally, think of someone who you find difficult. Imagine that person standing in front of you and say to that person, “I love you unconditionally. I forgive you for whatever pain you may have caused me in the past, intentionally, or unintentionally. However you have caused me pain in the past, I forgive you.”
Feel for a moment the potential release of anger and hostility the possibility of forgiveness offers you. Let go of the walls of resentment so that your heart may be free and open. Notice where you feel the greatest release of tension…
Now, silently in your heart, say to yourself, “I ask forgiveness of all those I may have caused pain, intentionally or unintentionally, through my words, thoughts or actions. And I offer forgiveness to myself for any pain I may have caused, intentionally or unintentionally through my words, thoughts or actions.”
Now feel your heart filling with love. Feel it spread through your entire body. Imagine love surrounding you and filling your every pore. Take a deep breath and allow love to follow you wherever you go.
written by Bonnie Berk, MS, RN, HNB-BC, ERYT
Read another blog post by Bonnie on practicing surrender on your cancer journey.
Bonnie is a Board Certified Holistic Nurse and co-founder of the Partners in Wellness Program administered through the YWCA Carlisle and partially funded by the Carlisle Area Health and Wellness Foundation. Bonnie is also a 500 Level Registered Yoga Teacher, Reiki Practitioner and Clinical Musician Intern playing harp for both hospital and hospice patients. She has been working with cancer patients for over 20 years and teaches a course at Dickinson College called Spiritual Dimensions of Health. Bonnie is an author, speaker and consultant to a broad range of institutions addressing wellness issues for people with cancer and chronic diseases. She offers the Yoga for Health Teacher Training Program and has produced a Yoga for Health DVD.
This summer, in coordination with Dickinson College and with a grant from The American Holistic Nurses Association, Bonnie and her ‘Partners’ will be researching the long term benefits of a cancer wellness program on quality of life issues. For more information, visit www.bonnieberk.com or call (717) 258-4641.