Who do you love?
The news of the world these days is bad. All bad. We ridicule and demean each other. We fight with each other. We kill each other. We fear each other.
We regard our own self-interest as the only worthy interest. We regard our own opinions as the only correct ones. We regard our religion as the only true religion. We regard our way of life as the only justifiable way to live.
When we do care about others, it is the others in our own circle. We are numb to the suffering of the world beyond our sphere. Perhaps that is due to the instantaneous nature of the news these days, where we can watch war and tragedy as it happens, and we are eventually numbed by it. “Tsk, tsk”, we say. We shake our heads sadly. And then we put it out of our minds and go on about our own lives.
Where does the concept of love come into our approach to the world’s problems?
As I was pondering that question, the word “agape” came to mind. I understand it to mean love, but the kind of love one has for one’s fellow beings. Christianity has adopted the term to mean the self-sacrificing kind of love that God has for humanity. A pure, accepting love that extends to every living being. A benevolent love, which Christians are called upon to reciprocate in practice towards God and among one another.
In the Jewish tradition is the concept of Chesed, sometimes translated as loving-kindness. Chesed is a key concept that is central to Jewish ethics and theology. It is regarded as the core ethical virtue, and is the foundation of many religious commandments.
In Buddhism, Mettā meditation is practiced to cultivate benevolence toward others. Mettā signifies a strong wish for the happiness of other beings, regardless of whether we approve or disapprove of them, regardless of how that being has treated us or whether we have an expectation of anything in return.
I am reminded of an experience I had a couple of years ago. I attended a program where a loving kindness guided meditation was conducted. This particular day I was not feeling loving kindness toward anyone! I was feeling stressed, impatient, and unappreciated. I resented being there when I would rather stay home alone and stew in my own juices. I didn’t expect to get anything out of the program, but I felt I should go. To say I was not receptive would be an understatement. However, there I was.
The leader called for us to center ourselves, and then asked us to say to ourselves, and think about, the following phrases:
May I be filled with loving-kindness
May I be well
May I be peaceful and at ease
May I be happy
After we spent a short time with these phrases, we were asked to think about someone we loved and directed to go through the same process with that person as our focus:
May you be filled with loving-kindness
May you be well
May you be peaceful and at ease
May you be happy
We extended the circle of our loving kindness meditation in this order:
- a good friend or loved one
- a neutral person
- a difficult person
- the entire universe
Although I went into it with the wrong attitude altogether, I found my resentments falling away like so many dried leaves. My heart opened up, and tears filled my eyes as I connected on an emotional level with my feelings toward a “difficult person” that I had a long-held resentment of, and from whom I had been estranged for several years. In fact, as a direct result of that experience, I gained to courage to reach out in love, and we have since begun to repair our relationship. I am blessed with and grateful for her presence in my life once again.
That day I gained the sense that love was the virtue that makes all others possible. I experienced the realization that all people deserve my love and benevolence. That single experience of loving-kindness meditation moved me along the path of spiritual growth and authenticity in a way that few other experiences have ever done.
It’s a New Year, dear reader. Perhaps it’s also time to delve into the concept of Agape/Chesed/Mettā and use your own understanding to bring healing and kindness to your corner of our bruised and hurting world. It couldn’t hurt, and maybe, just maybe, love is the sole concept upon which hangs the ultimate answer to all our world’s problems. It’s worth thinking about.