My book club discussed Sharon Salzberg’s Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness at our meeting this month. Although Salzberg is a leading Buddhist writer in the US and a name with which I am very familiar, this is actually the first book of hers that I have read. It’s considered a classic in the field, from what I understand, so it was a great place to start.
The primary focus of the book is on the Buddhist practice of metta, which is translated into English as lovingkindness. The book covers this practice, several related practices that intertwine and grow out of a metta practice, and applies this practice to real-life situations that all of us face. It is unmistakably clear how powerful this practice can be in the way we experience the world around us and the amount of happiness that we experience.
Each chapter came with one or more sets of exercises to help readers work with these practices in their own lives. Unfortunately, I was rushing through the reading of the book last week in order to be ready for the discussion over the weekend, so I did not have a chance to try these exercises yet. However, the book made such an impression on me that I intend to find a hard copy (I currently have it on my Kindle) to use in walking through the exercises as I re-read the book at a much slower pace.
The thing that I found most powerful about this book for my own understanding is the way that metta is described. I am familiar with the Buddhist value around detachment, but I’ve always struggled with being able to put this into practice in relationships because being detached always seemed too much like being uncaring. The ways that she describes metta in this book helped me to grasp how I can care deeply about someone and still be detached in a positive way. This is such a key concept for me to understand given my struggles with codependency. The ability to allow someone else the freedom and emotional space to be themselves while still caring deeply about them is crucial for me to learn, and this concept of a metta practice has finally helped me to see how this could be possible.
The other practices described are compassion, joy, and equanimity. These all follow from and building on the practice of metta with the people in our lives. All four practices are meant to be done with ourselves, those we love, those we are neutral towards, and those who are our enemies. In other words, we learn to apply these practices to all people, starting with ourselves.
Oddly enough, the conversation at the book club focused almost exclusively on how this would apply to a threatening or intimidating stranger, but my thoughts while reading it were mostly about how I treat myself and those with whom I interact on a regular basis.
This is a book I’d highly recommend to anyone. No knowledge of Buddhism is required to make use of these practices; she explains them in a way that is accessible to anyone regardless of background, and I found that to be very helpful. I am looking forward to seeing what a difference these practices will make in my life as I begin working with the exercises. I think this is going to be a very big deal for me. This addresses one of those missing pieces that I’ve been looking for.
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