If you’ve always wanted to develop a charitable spirit, then why not take action? Starting up a practice in Loving Kindness work is one of the best ways to develop your sense of purpose and become more balanced, peaceful, and harmonized in your life. This is a very basic concept, but it has been a focused practice within Theraveda Buddhism for many, many years.
To fully embrace the spirit of this work, it’s important to shift your focus to expansive thoughts of loving kindness, which is “a love for humanity.” Caring for others is the foundation for developing a love for one self and the world as a whole.
Practicing Loving Kindness does not only mean starting a million-dollar foundation for the local hospital or operating an outreach hotline to support victims of social injustices. Instead, it means caring for anyone in need and reaching out to help… and living your life daily from this centered place of selflessness.
You can get involved with Loving Kindness in the following ways:
- 1) Care for children at an orphanage:
- Orphanages need financial support to ensure that services can be maintained. However, one-on-one care for the children being housed is even more important.
- Actually “getting your hands dirty” is one of the most selfless things you can do.
- Lend your services two Saturdays out of every month to bathe and feed the children at the nearest orphanage. Activities like these really change the lives of the less fortunate, and will like change your life too.
- Plan quarterly birthday parties for the kids so they feel special and important when their birthdays are being celebrated.
- 2) Reach out to the homeless:
- If you think back, you’ll likely realize that you walk or drive past homeless individuals on a regular basis without a second thought. Consider changing that approach by reaching out to lend a helping hand!
- You may not have the ability to change 1,000 lives, but you can start by changing one. Try providing meals or a helping hand to homeless shelters in your area.
- Ask your neighbors to donate gently used clothing or personal care items to that specific homeless person or to the local homeless shelter.
- 3) Embrace those exposed to abuse:
- People experiencing abuse of any kind need love more than anything else. Encourage these individuals to acknowledge their self-worth and celebrate all they have overcome.
- Providing support, advice, or even a listening ear can significantly help the healing process.
- Involve the person in activities that will take their mind off the emotional pain they may feel. Activities could include spiritual guidance, physically challenging outdoor feats, or a simple opportunity to share in laughter.
- Try to find ways to rehabilitate the abused person’s self-esteem.
The true purpose of loving kindness is to help you develop a charitable spirit. This will allow you to help others in need, while learning to appreciate all that you have. You may soon realize how blessed you are, which will bring you that much closer to living a genuinely charitable life.
It’s important to acknowledge the needs of others so that your input can truly be felt. If you take a look around, you’ll find many opportunities to develop a deep healing spirit. People everywhere are in need! Each of us can take part in helping to fulfill those needs.
Sharon Salzberg has one of the finest meditations on Loving Kindness that I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing, and her latest work, The Kindness Handbook, is wonderful. Here is some of what she has to say regarding her work (from Sounds True):
I was leading a meditation group in the DC area, and we had rented an elementary school auditorium for the day. All along the walls of the corridors were posted rules of being kind. During the breaks in the day, I would just stand and read them, again and again. They seemed so simple, yet like many simple truths, if we were to live them rather than merely admire them, they could change our life, whatever our age. The rules posted there rest on principles like dissolving the rigid boundaries we hold between ourselves and others, including rather than excluding, recognizing that our actions (and words) are consequential, and being thoughtful.
Carderock Elementary School rules for being kind:
- Treat people the way you would like to be treated.
- Play fair.
- Respect everyone—other students and all staff.
- Everyone can play.
- Help others when they need help.
- Don’t hurt others on the inside or the outside.
- Honor all of the pillars of ethics.
I decided that every week I would take one of these rules to hold as a touchstone—a guideline—to remember, to make choices by, to experiment with deepening, to enjoy. One of the most provocative and poignant for me was “Everyone can play.” When I first read it I imagined a child who was left out, who was staring at the in-crowd, feeling unwanted or unseen—then being beckoned forth, invited to join in, affirmed.
As I practiced this tenet, I noticed more hints of loneliness in those I encountered than I had seen before, more subtle echoes of that forlorn child than I expected. Including others was often like watching something unfurl and begin to flower within them. In making a point of including others in conversation, in regard, in a fullness of attention, I felt some subtle walls within me dissolve as well. There was a growing sense of rightness, of balance, because after all everyone should get to play.
Experiment with these rules; try one a week, or one a month, to emphasize. Even if you do live your life according to these tenets, consciously choosing to emphasize them can be enlivening, opening, and at times surprising.