Meditate for Love this Holiday Season

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I spent a good portion of last year’s holidays in a bad mood characteristic of cartoon villains – tiny skulls floating in a word bubble above my head as I stomped around in my Santa hat.  I went to parties I was too tired to attend, baked cookies and drank cocktails I didn’t like, then spent some quality time blaming my epic levels of resentment on those around me, particularly those overly cheerful cookie eaters and party throwers who had the audacity to give me a gift I wasn’t prepared to return. I then, of course, turned on myself with an inked onslaught of resolutions to be more caring, more giving, and more environmentally friendly in the coming year.

It’s ironic how much anger builds up during a season that is – in theory – about sharing and giving.  We leave the holiday season drained and enter the New Year frustrated by the way we were treated, what we ate and how we acted, then demand even more of ourselves in an attempt to undo the damage.

It dawned on me this year that making myself a priority could be the key to a kinder and more compassionate holiday season, and I immediately thought of the Buddhist Meditation practice called “metta” or “loving-kindness.”  It is designed to create an authentic compassion that starts with “me” and organically spreads to the people in our lives by creating a series of concentric circles of love around ourselves and those we care about (or maybe those who we don’t care so much for).

The practice carries the power to change our perspective by simply repeating – either silently or out loud –blessings that encompass both our truest self and that of the people surrounding us.  The traditional phrasing states, “May all be free from fear. May all have mental happiness. May all have physical happiness. May all have equanimity.” I have adapted it a little.

May all be free from fear.
May all have joy.
May all have health.
May all be at peace, no matter what.

We repeat those phrases as a blessing to ourselves and to widening circles around us with the intention of gently changing the way we view the people we care about and the beauty that is our authentic self.  If you’re short on time and have to face your mother-in-law in an hour, skip to the end of the article and try the short practice, but be sure to revisit the article and try the whole practice.

Loving-Kindness Meditation for the Holidays
Find a quiet spot where you can sit for 10-15 minutes.  (You do not have to sit on the floor to meditate! If you need support for your back, neck, butt, or any other weak area, sit in a chair or lay down somewhere you can stay alert.)

Close your eyes and take five breaths, stretching your exhale just a bit longer than your inhale. When your mind wanders (because it will), simply take an extra breath to return without judgment and without chasing the thought down its rabbit hole.

1.    It starts with you.

“May I be free from fear.  May I have joy.  May I have health.  May I have peace, no matter what.”

Western society encourages us to pack down the parts of ourselves that we don’t like … that part that loves sugar, really wants a tattoo or can’t stand running.  But this practice encourages us to reach down and embrace those parts that we don’t always allow to see the light of day, then repeat the blessings to our whole self.

Sometimes it’s difficult to start with “may I be at peace, no matter what.”  I actually started with saying, “May YOU be free from fear,” while picturing myself as an independent and innocent child because it was such a struggle to meet myself where I was at the time.  Start where you can!  Five minutes of just gently repeating the phrases to yourself may be all you get through for a while. My practice consisted of this step for nearly two weeks when I first started Metta meditation, but reaching yourself is the imperative first step.

2. Spread the love.

Continue the practice with someone who is easy to love – typically called a “benefactor” in this context – or a beloved companion or friend (it’s best not to choose a romantic partner or family member initially as history and current drama can get sticky). Picture yourself sitting with that person, looking at them and maybe holding their hands.  Then repeat the phrases with the word you: “May YOU be free from fear,” with an understanding that it is actually “we.”  You are together.

3.  Reach Out.

Next, find someone who is completely neutral – ideally someone you hardly know.  I picked the crossing guard that I drove past on weekdays, but it could be the bank teller that was two windows down or the gas station attendant from two weeks ago.  Include them in the circle with your benefactor and repeat the blessing to them: “May YOU have joy…”

4. Now comes the challenge…

Once your circles include yourself, those you love, and someone who is neutral, it’s time to stretch.  Choose someone with whom you have a conflict.  Word to the wise: Choose someone relatively easy for the first round because the goal is to generate complete acceptance and love for that person, and it takes a lot of practice to truly accept the difficult people in our lives.  Struggling? You can also repeat the words AS IF you felt compassion and love toward that person, not in a spirit of being fake, but UNTIL you can generate those feelings.

5. And the best part…

The next part of the practice is to extend loving kindness to a group of people or to all beings everywhere. To ease the pain of isolation and frustration, send compassion to people you can empathize with, like “those struggling with their families” or “anyone who can’t afford to go home this year.”  Ultimately, you may feel so connected that you send love to “all beings everywhere.”

Holiday Emergency Practice

Only have a moment?  In the car, on the plane or while walking into your next event, repeat the following to yourself:
May I, and everyone here, be free from fear.
May I, and everyone here, have joy.
May I, and everyone here, be healthy.
May I, and everyone here, be at peace.

Often the buzzwords for the holidays are something like “JOY!” or “PEACE,” but I would offer this word in their stead: GRACE. In the very human process of meeting ourselves as we are – even with tiny skulls floating over our heads and a dress that looked better before that leftover pumpkin pie – we start to sense togetherness with those we may not even know.  And isn’t that the spirit of the holidays?

Anne Jelinek

About the writer:
Anne is an SFG Russian Kettlebell Instructor, helping clients build strength and conditioning, and a 200 Hour Registered Yoga Teacher, leading classes that teach deep internal awareness and powerful external expression. Since 2008, she has served clients and students in the Washington, D.C. and San Francisco Bay Area, and recently relocated to Madison, WI.  Her coaching style is rooted in intelligent progression from mobility to power, with an emphasis on mindful movement, self love and mindful eating.

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