A Lovingkindness Blessing

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Just over a year ago, my oldest son was infected with Lyme Disease.  There were no telltale symptoms, no fever, no bullseye rash. We never even found the tick that bit him.   Those nasty little Borrelia burgdorferi spirochetes just went straight to his heart.  He ended up in third degree heart block in the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit.  The bacterial infection caused swelling, which blocked the flow of blood.  By the next afternoon, his heartbeat was at times as slow as 25-30 bpm; normal resting heart rate for boys his age is more like 80 bpm. The Lyme Disease also wreaked havoc with his heart’s conduction system.  We found out later that the doctor had actually scheduled the operation to put a pacemaker in him.  He was only thirteen at the time.

Hospitals are strange places, where time seems to lose its meaning.  I was in hospital when each of my children was born, but the regular maternity ward is a very different place from the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit. I don’t ever recall a chaplain visiting me on the maternity floor.  On the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit, with its beeping machines and profoundly sick babies and children, the chaplain visited at least once a day.

The first time I met her, the chaplain offered me a series of bookmarks and cards with sayings from a variety of religions – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish.  The last thing she pulled out of her bag was a a small, photocopied square of paper.

METTA

LOVINGKINDNESS MEDITATION

May I be at peace.

May my heart remain open.

May I awaken to the light of my own true nature.

May I be healed.

May I be a source of healing for all beings.

Say these blessings for yourself anytime you feel alone,

afraid or out of touch with the Light within.

May you be at peace.

May your heart remain open.

May you awaken to the light of your own true nature.

May you be healed.

May you be a source of healing for all beings.

Say these blessings for as many people as you wish.

If worried thoughts about loved ones occur during the day,

take a minute to send them a lovingkindness blessing

rather than a fearful thought.

From Buddhist Tradition

I’m not a Buddhist, but I repeated these words to myself that night as I lay on the hard, cramped cot in my son’s room.  I closed my eyes and listened to his slow, sleepy breathing, the heart monitor’s low beep. I sent my son Lovingkindness blessings until I fell asleep.

By daybreak, my son had moved from third to first degree heartblock.  Since he had been in an area where we knew there were ticks carrying Lyme, they had started him on IV antibiotics as soon as he got to the hospital.  After 24 hours, the antibiotics had kicked in fully and the infection was retreating.  (Last month, my son went back to the pediatric cardiologist for his final follow-up exam.  She gave him an “A+” for his EKG and physical exam. There appears to be no permanent damage to his heart and no lasting symptoms of Lyme Disease.)

I can’t say that I believe my son’s improvement was related to the Lovingkindness meditation or to my other prayers, but I do know that, at a time when I was worried about him,  it gave me great comfort to send him the Lovingkindness blessing.  I put the photocopied scrap of paper with the Lovingkindness meditation in my laptop case. At some point, out of curiosity, I read a bit more about Metta.  At the risk of oversimplifying an ancient religious practice, the Lovingkindness mediation generally is done in this way.  You always begins with yourself.  Next, you think of someone you love, then someone who you think about in a neutral way.  Followed by the hardest one – someone with whom you are in conflict.  The words of the meditation can be varied, but the words on the paper I was given capture the essence.  The purpose of the meditation is because, as Buddha said,

“Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness,

and dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on loving-kindness.”

I love the idea that, even in the face of great evil, you CAN do something. Don’t think you are small and helpless. You, as an individual, can control your thoughts. You can turn them, at least for a few moments, away from fear and towards something positive instead.

***

A few weeks ago, I was in New York and found myself downtown near the new National September 11 Memorial.  I had half an hour before my next meeting, so I decided to check it out.

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Like most who remember that day thirteen years ago, September 11 will always be for me a day marked by pain and shock and suffering.  I don’t know what it is like to lose a loved one in a tragedy like the World Trade Center attack, but my son’s close call with Lyme disease gave me the smallest of inklings of what it is like to lose a loved one.  And it definitely gave me a sense of what it is like to experience unexpected danger that falls from a seemingly clear blue sky.   For me, September 11 is an annual reminder of the strident need we have for less violence and hatred in our world. And of how much we need more peace, more connection, more healing. More loving and more kindness.

I happened to have my laptop in my briefcase.  That little scrap of photocopied paper was still there, in the pocket of my laptop case, where it had been since we left the hospital more than a year ago.  I had never bothered to throw it away, but I had never taken it out either.  Now, at the September 11 Memorial, I sat down in the shade of a newly planted tree and took it out.

I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the waterfalls, the low murmur of the crowd. I began with myself, followed by my son. I held, both in my thoughts and in my heart, the families of those who lost loved ones on that day.  Next came those who would purposefully harm innocent people.  Yes, even them.  It was hard, but I tried.  One thing I have learned from my work with the victims of human rights abuses is the power of forgiveness. 

And then I sent a lovingkindness blessing to our world.

 

 

 

 

 

(This post was written and edited as part of the Weekly Writing Challenge.)

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17 thoughts on “A Lovingkindness Blessing

  1. I love the greatness of spirit you displayed at the Memorial. In the Bahá’í writings it says:
    “I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content.
    Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness.”

    So glad your son gas fully recovered and I’m quite sure that the prayers you sent in his direction had an impact. There has been interesting research into the recovery of patients who were prayed for versus those who weren’t!

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    1. Thank you for sharing that beautiful Bahá’í writing! Also for your warm thoughts about my son. Yes, the research on the power of prayer – whatever the faith – is remarkable. It gives me hope for all who are hurting. Thank you so much for your comment!

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    2. I just wanted to thank you for posting your lovely blog about “A Lovingkindness Blessing”. I have been using this meditation for a number of years. I use it when I feel overwhelmed by the hostility in the world, when I am having a challenging relationship experience, and especially when my critical mind has taken over and I have no compassion for myself. Last night I was the facilitator for my Sacred Space group that meets once a month. I had decided I wanted to focus on Forgiveness using the Ho’oponopono Prayer and the lovingkindness blessing. Since there are a number of versions of the lovingkindness blessing I wanted to find a written copy of the meditation I have been using which led me to your blog. I loved that a Chaplin in the hospital gave you this meditation and that you said the meditation both when your son was in the hospital and also at the 9/11 Memorial in New York. Last night I shared your story with my Sacred Space group before we used the lovingkindness blessing as one of our meditations. Thank You.

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  2. Whatever one’s faith the words, prayers and thoughts of love and kindness to others can impact that person’s life and make a difference in their perspective on the value of each and every life. Although I am a Christian and not a Buddhist I cannot think to live without prayer and God’s blessing on my own life and pray others than experience Him for themselves. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt message and I’m so happy to know he is healed and well today. I am a mother of two and grandmother of four and to think of loosing just one of my kids or grandchildren would bring enough pain and heartache. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for all those who lost their loved one on 9/11 from that horrendous event.

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  3. Beautiful post. I love the words you shared and the idea that we can always doing something even if it is “just” to not allow evil or fear to rule our thoughts and hearts. I’m so glad to hear that your son recovered from his brush with Lyme. May he stay healthy and strong.

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  4. Cathy McMahon

    Thank you for writing this, Jennifer. I’m so glad your son recovered well! I have practiced the Lovingkindness ritual within a faith community and its impact on me is very powerful. As you’ve described, it’s an exercise to practice one’s compassion, deliberately including those hardest to bring in to one’s own deep circle of love. Sometimes it’s harder to do this than others, but it always feels worth the effort. And it is also interesting that the compassion directed toward the self seems so surprising
    to me. Some of us have to do more of that and that effort is also very worthwhile.

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  5. I am so glad your son has recovered, I cannot imagine the feelings that would accompany seeing your child in those scary and uncertain circumstances. I have two daughters and I am grateful everyday for their health. The prayer is beautiful. Thank you for sharing! I wrote it down 🙂

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Everyone has the right to an opinion and I'd love to hear yours! While comments are very welcome, they will be moderated. My kids read this blog, too!

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