Judaism holds that the world was built with chesed (lovingkindness) We read in Psalms: Olam Chesed Yibaneh עוֹלָם, חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה (The world is build with chesed*) and we learn that the entire world is continually sustained by learning, intention and acts of lovingkindness (torah, prayer/avodah and g’milut chasadim)
A few weeks ago, I taught my students a beautiful practice that I had learned from my teachers, Rabbi Sheila Weinberg and Sylvia Boorstein.
Sylvia Boorstein teaches about the Buddhist practice called Metta, which in Poli, means “lovingkindness.” Perhaps one reason this practice has resonated with so many Jews is the similarity to our ancient Priestly Blessing:
May God bless you and keep you
May God’s presence shine upon you and be gracious to you
May God presence be with you and give you peace.
However, in the Priestly Blessing (thought to be our most ancient prayer) it is the high priest who “channels” the blessing of God to the people. We, too, can be channels of blessing to others, and even to ourselves. In fact, in our day, we need to be vehicles of blessing, and in fact, we are. Every time our heart opens and we then reach out to another human being, blessing flows from us. We desperately need as much blessing as all of us can conjure up — not only for others, but for our own bruised souls. Now, modern science is validating and adding to what religious life has known is true: compassion can be cultivated.
Back to Sylvia: She teaches Lovingkindness practice so beautifully. Here’s a video of her leading people through the practice, in her interview with Krista Tippett from the On Being podcast:
May ____(I/you) feel safe and protected.
May ____(I/you) feel content and pleased.
May ____(my/your) physical body provide me with strength.
May ____(my/your) life unfold smoothly with ease.
In Hebrew, we might say something like this:
May ________ feel safe (b’tachon) בטחון
May ________ feel content (see’pook) סיפוק
May ________ feel strong (oz) עוז
May ________ I feel peace (shalom) שלום
Start with 5 minutes a day. Start with yourself.
These resources help you get started with either secular or Jewish practices to build compassion. Like learning anything – it’s always good to start with ourselves, as Sylvia teaches in the meditation shown above. For some reason, we often find it easier to be more compassionate to others than to ourselves. Our “inner critics” need softening. It’s deeply powerful and important to be kinder and gentler to our own tender hearts.
Center for Investigating Minds
Dr. Richard Davidson has been studying the development of compassion for years. While his initial studies were with Tibetan monks who had a long history of contemplative practice, more recently, he and other researchers have been teaching and studying the effects of lovingkindness meditation for everyday people (like you and I.) They have found that in as little as two weeks, people have experienced changes in their own behavior and thought processes. The link below will take you to the audio of the guided meditation they have used in their most recent lovingkindness studies.
UCLA Mindfulness Center
UCLA’s mindfulness center is based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s pioneering work in meditation over 20 years ago. They teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Here is their version of Lovingkindness meditation
Jewish Spiritual Practices
Here are many podcasts by rabbis from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality including Rabbis Sheila Weinberg, Rachel Cowan, Myriam Klotz, Marc Margolius, Jonathan Slater, Lisa Goldstein, Jordan Bendat-Appel.
a piece about Lovingkindness Meditation by Dani Shapiro
Dani, in her wonderful book Devotion, writes about her journey through various spiritual disciplines, including her native Judaism. She is eloquent and moving when she describes her experience learning lovingkindness (Metta) meditation, with Sylvia Boorstein (it’s at the end of this excerpt):
(for more about Dani Shapiro, please see her website and sign up for her updates. She frequently writes about mindfulness: http://www.danishapiro.com/
wise words from the Velveteen Rabbi: Carving New Grooves on Heart and Mind
* for a beautiful song that Rabbi Menachem Creditor wrote called Olam Chesed Yibaneh, click the link below. He wrote it for his daughter, who was born two days after the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. In the midst of destruction, he writes about building: http://rabbicreditor.blogspot.com/2012/12/olam-chesed-yibaneh-with-newtown-in-my.html
I would love to hear your experiences with these practices! Please comment.