When I was a small boy my dad left the family … he abandoned my sister and me and came back just often enough to rub salt in the wounds he had cut in our hearts. There is a chapter about him in my book called “My Father was an Asshole.”
And yet I know better than that. I know there is much more to him than the feelings of abandonment I experienced as a small boy wishing I had a dad to play catch with. There was a time shortly after my mom died that I thought about trying to locate my dad, in hopes of working through all the complicated feelings together. But in keeping with my flawed relationship with him, just as I was about to reach out I learned he had died … just a few months after my mom.
Consequently, like so many of my life’s issues, I was left to sort out these feelings in therapy, with my spiritual father Guru Singh, and in the depth of my heart in meditation. One of the ways I approached this process was in the form of loving kindness meditation as taught to me by the wonderful teacher, Sharon Salzberg.
Loving kindness meditation is the practice of sending love and kindness first to yourself, then to those you love, to people you don’t know, to those you have grievances with, and eventually to all beings everywhere. In many ways it’s similar to prayer, so it’s a form of meditation that I’ve found is easy for our culture. I sit quietly and, beginning with myself, I quietly send myself a message of love. Something like … “May I be loved … May I be healed … May I know peace.” Sharon taught me to use the word “may” because sometimes “I am loved” doesn’t feel real, and by using “may” we can make it valid for ourselves versus the affirmation “I am.” As the meditation begins to warm my heart I then move to others — my wife and children, my sister and nephews, my friends, then people I don’t know. Then to people about whom I feel hostility. And eventually I complete the circle by sending love to all beings everywhere.
The hang-up came for me with my dad. Saying may he be loved was an intellectual exercise that wasn’t truly landing in my heart. I knew it was right to send him love. I knew that was a holy act. But it wasn’t coming from my heart. How did I know? Because it should have made me cry — breaking down the walls of abandonment I had felt for years — and instead I was just sitting there on the floor saying words that made sense but weren’t connecting in my heart. Does that resonate with you?
Then one day I was listening to a chant by Deva Premal and Miten called the Kumara Mantra, which is a sacred blessing for the children of the world. As I was meditating to the mantra I began to say silently the names of my children. Slowly repeating their names … over and over and over again until they began to circle around me … like a wheel of beautiful energetic blessing for my children. The experience was powerful and amazingly peaceful so I added in the names of my nephews. Then the children of my closest friends. And then without thinking I included myself — not the adult me, but the little boy who lives deep inside. As I continued the blessing I began to feel a real glow of love in my heart. So I continued, adding my family and friends — again, not the adult versions of them but the children in them. And then without thinking I added my father. Unlike wishing the adult version of him love, sending a blessing to the child in him was easy. Of course I wanted the little boy in my dad to be loved; after all, that probably would have led to love for little me. And as I added his name to the circle alongside all the people I love so dearly, I began to cry … really good cleansing tears from deep inside my heart in the place where the hurt little boy resides. I slowly began to connect with the child in my father and I imagined the kind of fear and insecurity it would have taken to create a man who abandoned his kids … and bit by bit I saw that his fear wasn’t much different from my own insecurities. As I said the blessing and the names over and over and over again I began to feel a shift. I felt loved at the deepest level and, for the first time, I felt love for my father.
Sharon says that “loving kindness is the ability to see the humanity in people who we don’t know and the pain in the people we find difficult.” In other words, we become one even with the people who have caused us the most pain … like my dad. And in seeing beyond our pain, and finding ourselves in others, we learn to love ourselves at the deepest level. That is what this meditation taught me.
In seeing beyond our pain, and finding ourselves in others, we learn to love ourselves at the deepest level.
This week I invite you to join me in connecting with the child inside. Comfort your fears and anger with a blessing of love for the little you. And then, as it feels right, share that blessing with the child in all people who have caused you harm. Find the hurt child in them and give them love. This is the deepest form of self-love … and compassion for all beings.
Big hugs of loving kindness,