November DRE Column: Spiritual Care in Times of Stress, Cynthia Westby

The holiday season is upon us and with it comes, for many of us, a lot of stress and challenge.  I encourage us to cultivate some form of compassion and/or self-love practice to support us as we move through this busy time of year.  In addition to offering yourself kindness and love, these practices will support extending your compassion and love out into your community.

As part of our covenant with each other at Westside, we promise that we will dwell together in peace and love each other.  Believing the best of each other, listening attentively and speaking thoughtfully and kindly, from a place of love and peace is essential for a viable, healthy covenantal community.  This requires our being rooted in love, kindness and compassion.  Those roots grow in nourishing soil – and that nourishment is our self-love and self-compassion.  Talking to ourselves with kindness and care is key in nourishing self-love and self-compassion.  This nourishment then allows us to extend compassion, peace and love into our community.  This creates a community able to positively support each other in healthy ways as we worship and commune together.

Again, and it does bear repeating, in order to treat others with love and kindness we need to begin with ourselves.  Honoring ourselves with dignity and treating ourselves as worthy, and offering ourselves self talk that extends to ourselves peace, love and kindness is fundamental to feeling good about ourselves.  Listening attentively to discern our still small voice to connect in authenticity and in relationship with our deepest selves and others, is the also key in being able to offer peace and love to others.

Self-love, self-compassion, and our still small voice can be lost when we are overwhelmed, busy or disconnected in other ways.  Here are a few practices you can experiment with to explore what might support your practice of compassion and love for yourself and others.  You can always adapt the words to ones that feel most comfortable and meaningful to you.  You can also consider having your children and youth listen to these guided meditations with you or, if you are comfortable, on their own.   One place to begin is with “Compassion Northwest’s” UTube site.  There, Imam Jamal Rahman (who has offered sermons here at Westside) has recorded several wonderful meditations.  His “Heart Meditation” is lovely:  Another one of his I find helpful is his “Sacred Namings” meditation:   There are many other meditations on this site and you can explore this site to see if one of their meditations speaks to and supports you.

Additionally, metta (or loving-kindness) practice is a powerful practice for developing loving-kindness for yourself, others and the world.  There are some great guided metta practices by many teachers.  Sharon Salzberg is especially known for her metta practices and here is a link to one I recommend:

To offer this loving-kindness practice quietly to yourself you would say words such as:  “May I be happy; May I be peaceful and at ease; May I be full of loving-kindness; May I be well.”  After repeating these words, quietly or silently to yourself, while you imagine directing the words to yourself, then, if you wish, imagine a person you love and offer these words to them as you picture them in your mind, “May you be happy; May you be peaceful and at ease; May you be full of loving-kindness; May you be well.”  This practice can be extended to communities, the world, animals, and so on and you would adapt the words as appropriate.

Finally, there was a wonderful article about mindfulness meditation in the New York Times with recorded mindfulness meditations to play for children and families.  Children, parents, caregivers can benefit from mindfulness, a simple practice of bringing a gentle, accepting attitude to the present moment.  Mindfulness meditations encourage happiness and relieve stress.  This was a good article with suggestions and activities for cultivating compassion, concentration, and curiosity which included guided meditations:

Remember, just as fear and anxiety are contagious, so are love, kindness and care.  May we all spread love and kindness.  I wish all of you a peaceful, loving season full of kindness and compassion.

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