ME/CFS: Cultivating Happiness through Loving-kindness Meditation

This time of year can often make us feel even more pressured by the expectations involved in living a ‘normal’ life. It’s a time that should be all about loving and giving, but our exhaustion can leave us feeling that we have nothing left to give. However, I believe that a little bit of love goes a very long way, and it doesn’t take much energy to find a little bit of love to give! It’s just a matter of scaling down our expectations of what it means to give, or to love.  It’s not hard to spend a little bit of time paying attention to our loving feelings towards others, and it feels good to do so. Even when people aren’t aware that they are in your thoughts I believe that the love that you put out there makes a difference.  Love doesn’t have to be expressed through energetic pursuits to mean something! And those who expect it to be can be lovingly forgiven for their lack of understanding.
I first learned the following meditation practice many, many years ago, on a six session Buddhist meditation course. I’m not sure that my practise now reflect exactly what was taught to me as the ‘Metta bhavana’ but I do know that it is very rewarding to practise and when effectively done can leave me with a wonderful sense of blissful well-being.
The idea is to send out wishes of loving kindness first to yourself, then to a loved one, then to someone you have neutral feelings for, then to someone you don’t like very much and finally to the whole of humanity.
My way of doing this is to wish each individual happiness, health, joy and laughter, trying to imagine each person happy and healthy and joyfully laughing, as I do so. I go through each person one at a time starting with myself, my nearest and dearest, my friends and acquaintances, and then picking out somebody I don’t really like (Back when I was a student this was nearly always Margret Thatcher!).  After someone I don’t like I aim to expand this well wishing to large bodies of people. I usually go geographically, starting with countries where I know people (I’ve travelled quite a bit) wishing happiness, health, joy and laughter to everyone I know or met in that country. Then my wishes go to everyone else in that country.  Once I have covered all the countries of a particular continent where I know people, I go on to send my wishes to everyone else in that continent and so on, until I can imagine my wishes travelling around the whole world. If geography isn’t your thing, you might want to group humanity in another way, as it’s hard to go from imagining individuals to imagining the whole of human kind in one leap.
You may object to wishing happiness, health, joy and laughter to people who don’t seem to deserve it. However it’s helpful to remember that happiness and joy result only from positive actions and interactions. Any reward a person might get from nasty or antisocial behaviour will not resemble in the slightest happiness and joy. I try to remember that it is likely that people only seek those kinds of rewards because they feel no hope of receiving happiness and joy or may not even know what happiness and joy feels like.  If you feel reluctant to wish someone happiness because they are not a very nice person, remember that they will only be happy by leaving behind their negativity. You are not wishing them to be rewarded with happiness for their bad actions. You are really wishing that they will find a way of contributing to make the world a better place and in doing so will experience happiness and joy.
It’s also very important to be able to send these wishes to yourself. Remember that you are just as important a part of humanity as each and every other person! If you can’t find yourself worthy of being happy and healthy, of finding joy and laughter, then it will be very difficult to cultivate those feelings for the rest of humanity: if you are not worthy then there will be others that won’t be too.
I usually try and practise this meditation once or twice a week. However you might prefer to spread it out and send those kinds of wishes to a couple of people at a time. It doesn’t really matter exactly how you do this practise, but paying attention to cultivating loving wishes towards others can bring great rewards in terms of personal happiness and doesn’t take a great deal of energy!
I’d like to finish by wishing each and every one of you a peaceful couple of weeks filled with joy and love and may 2013 bring you an abundance of happiness, health, joy and laughter!
P.S. I’m posting this blog early to free my energy for festive preparations later this week. I’ve also decided to take a week off next week and allow myself to enjoy the festivities and to save energy for a get together of university friends late next week. I probably won’t post again until the 4th of January.

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