Living in a state of loving kindness towards others is crucial to our calm and wellbeing.
I am always humbled when I hear about people who forgive in the face of devastating wrong. This is one of the most impressive human feats. I recently heard about a former work colleague whose son was stabbed to death only days after her husband had died from Covid 19. This remarkable woman was able publicly to declare her forgiveness for her son’s killers[i]. Knowing her to be a person of kindness and integrity, I realised that her ability to forgive was consistent with her profound faith and goodness. My sorrow at her terrible loss mingled with admiration. I asked myself: could I do that?
The Cost of Holding onto Anger
Humans are social creatures. Our relationships play a big part in our happiness. Most religions and philosophies give an important place to loving relationships, not just with people we naturally like but with difficult people too. This is crucial for our inner peace.
Other people often cause us pain, but we can choose how we respond.
“Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at somebody else: you are the one who gets burned.” These words of wisdom are often attributed to the Buddha. Whatever their origin, the meaning is clear. Anger, bitterness and failing to forgive is seriously harmful. Jesus taught that we should forgive those who wrong us and even love our enemies. Sometimes this seems impossible, but the inability to forgive causes ongoing damage.
Forgiveness, Science and Health
Modern science agrees with the teaching of faith traditions on the importance of forgiveness and loving relationships for our wellbeing. Research studies show that people who are able to forgive wrongs have lower levels of depression and anxiety and improved mental health. They also have a higher white blood cell count which is a key component of the immune system, meaning they are less likely to contract infections. Forgiveness is also related to better parenting skills and increased self-esteem[ii]. Another study showed that chronically angry people have higher levels of heart disease and worse disease outcomes[iii]. Holding onto anger can actually kill you.
Loving Relationships and Dealing with Hurt
Fortunately we do not all suffer the murder of loved ones. But we all have to deal with difficult people and challenging relationships. Bosses at work, spouses, in-laws, colleagues or even passers-by can upset us and cause us pain. Finding ways of coping when people hurt us is essential for our inner peace.
Many books have been written about relationships. I do not have space or expertise here to give you more than a few suggestions. But if a relationship – past or present – is causing ongoing stress then I would encourage you to look for ways to heal the problem. The approach will depend on the severity of the issue and the nature of the relationship. An encounter with an enraged road user whom we will probably never see again can be very disturbing. But its impact is very different from that of an abusive partner or a bullying boss.
Professional Help and Counselling
If a relationship is causing you serious problems, then it is important to get the right sort of help and support, especially if you feel the relationship has become abusive. You can talk to a trusted friend or a health professional. You can also seek counselling from a reputable person or organisation. Sometimes counselling can positively transform a struggling relationship. Sometimes, sadly, you might need to end a relationship or leave a job to protect your own health and wellbeing. A friend or counsellor may be able to help you discern this. I have included a few links to useful organisations at the bottom of this article.
You must always tell someone – a health professional, teacher, police officer or social worker – if you think a child is at risk of harm.
Transforming Difficult Feelings
Sometimes you are not actively being hurt but you are left with difficult feelings about an encounter or a relationship. Even though you may never meet the person again, or they do not play a big part in your life, feelings of bitterness or anger can linger. This is when meditation, prayer and mindful practices can really help. We have the ability to transform our painful emotions. Often this can take some time, and sometimes we need the support of other people. But it is most definitely possible and worthwhile.
Meditative and Mindful Practices
Many of the meditative and calming practices I have covered in previous blogs are helpful for dealing with anger and relationship issues. Gentle Yoga, breath meditation, walking in nature and journaling are all wonderful ways to calm the body and mind. When you let go of anxiety and focus on the present moment you can effortlessly loosen painful memories and calm bitter feelings.
Three Step Rewind and Hypnotherapy
I am a trained practitioner and advocate of the Three Step Rewind process for dealing with difficult memories and emotions. This is a safe guided relaxation which enables you to lay to rest patterns of thought which no longer serve you. The Rewind is based on Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP). It is simple and effective[iv].
Hypnotherapy can also be a powerful way to deal with anger and anxiety. Look for a fully qualified professional if you would like to explore this[v].
Loving Kindness Meditation
The Loving Kindness Meditation or metta bhavana from the Buddhist tradition is a beautiful way to cultivate loving feelings towards ourselves and others[vi]. It is impossible to feel love and kindness towards other people if we are unable to love ourselves. We need first to understand what love feels like. The Loving Kindness Meditation practice builds on this crucial understanding.
The practice then goes on to focus on feeling love and kindness towards other people, first those we like, and then others. Here is how to do it:
- Begin by sitting quietly, relaxing and focusing on your breathing. Make sure you feel settled and safe.
- Recall a time and place when you felt completely safe and loved. Maybe you can imagine being with a close friend, a child or a loved pet. Perhaps you have a happy memory from your childhood. Focus all your attention on experiencing the warm feeling of being loved, cared for and appreciated. Allow yourself to feel safe and loved. Take some time to enjoy this feeling. Send yourself kind and loving thoughts.
- Some people find this difficult. If so, then stop here. Each time you practice the Loving Kindness meditation, focus on sending yourself feelings of being loved. You could simply repeat to yourself, ‘I am loved.’
- When you are comfortably able to feel love for yourself, then you can think of a person you find easy to love. Maybe you have a special friend, a beloved family member or a wonderful pet. Visualise that person in front of you. In your mind send them the same warm feelings of love and kindness you have felt towards yourself. Visualise this person relaxing and smiling as your love reaches them. Enjoy the feeling of sending love to a loved one.
- This may be enough. But if you feel able, you can move onto imagining a person towards whom your feelings are neutral. This might be a work colleague, someone you see at a shop or cafe, or any real person you neither especially like nor dislike. Visualise this person standing in front of you, and practice sending loving thoughts to them. Imagine them softening and smiling. Notice how you feel.
- Only when you feel able, you can extend the practice to a person you find difficult. It is best to start with someone you find slightly irritating rather than the awful boss who terrorises you. You can gradually build up to that person. Just as before, visualise the difficult person standing in front of you. See if you can send kind and loving thoughts to them. Focus on their wellbeing. In your imagination send them kindness and all the good things they need.
- Now relax. Allow your mind and emotions to be free. Take some time to just breathe and rest. When you are ready, finish your meditation and continue with your day.
Different Ways to Practice
There are different ways to practice the Loving Kindness Meditation. You can focus solely on yourself and feelings of love. Or you can extend the practice to feeling love towards the whole Universe and all living beings. Do what feels safe and comfortable for you. Everyone has different needs and experiences.
Loving Kindness Mantra
It can be helpful to use a simple mantra. Try repeating the following phrases in your mind as you focus on each person:
“May you be well.
May you be safe.
May you be happy.”
Taking it into the World
Notice how you feel towards the people in your meditation when you meet them in the real world. Maybe you find yourself giving a smile to that person in the supermarket, or sending a card to a friend who needs cheering up. Loving Kindness meditation can make a real difference to your life and relationships.
Today’s Calming Practice – Loving Kindness
You might like to try the Loving Kindness meditation today. Sit quietly and focus on feeling loving kindness towards yourself. Extend that feeling to others if you feel able.
See if you can do something kind for someone today. Give someone a card or a small gift to tell them you care. Send your kind thoughts or prayers to someone who needs them. Smile at a stranger. Remember to care for yourself too.
Thanks for reading this blog post. I am writing a series of 31 blogs every day this August. I plan to publish them later in the year as a book entitled, ‘Finding Your Calm Space – 31 Ways to Find Calm in a Crazy World’.
I’m Karen. I am a Yoga teacher, Reflexologist and busy mum of seven. I live with my family in Billericay, Essex, UK. In the past I have worked as a Midwife, Health Visitor, Baby Signing teacher and Tax Inspector. I love getting outdoors, swimming in the sea, walking and writing. Helping people relax is one of the things I do best.
You can learn more about my Yoga classes and Reflexology at my website www.thecalmspace.co.uk
People and Organisations for Help When Relationships Get Difficult