"The first step toward feeling compassion for others is to set the intention to try it out. Regardless of whether we have certain fears or feelings of aversion when considering this idea, we can relish the experience of exercising our minds and hearts. While we may be biologically wired to look for differences between ourselves and others, we can also accept that there is validity in experimenting with new habits, wisdom that results from encouraging ourselves to learn and expand.
"This works for groups we may harbor resentment toward, as well as individuals. The process requires patience, though; opening our shuttered hearts has its own timetable. Often, we may spend a while just going through the motions, feeling as if we're getting nowhere fast. Yet with a clear intention and a willing heart, sooner or later we experience the joy and freedom that arises when we recognize our common humanity with others and see that real love excludes no one.
"There's no need to begin this process with judgment or a harsh sense of discipline. I've had students tell me that they feel bad or inadequate upon realizing that love for others doesn't spring forth from their hearts like water in a babbling brook. Finding this boundless love isn't the result of a goal-oriented search, but a practice. We experiment with what it feels like to treat ourselves with kindness when we 'succeed' as much as when we 'fail.' We open our eyes to the suffering and joy of those we see in line for security in the airport as much as we do to our family members. We challenge ourselves to see that kindness is really at the core of what it means to be and feel alive.
"None of this is easy. As I said, learning the practice of lovingkindness meditation for the first time challenged my emotional fabric in ways I didn't expect. As I practiced sending phrases of lovingkindness to myself, then to benefactors and to acquaintances, to difficult people and — finally — all beings, I began noticing just how much I was conditioned to entangle myself in judgments, assumptions, fears, and stories. This act of noticing itself is part of real love. We see that we can set the intention to stretch past these habits we've gotten used to – both internally and as the result of familial, circumstantial, and overarching societal factors. Not because we are doing something phony or because we are trying to force ourselves to be hypocritical or pretentious. We stretch because, as human beings with capacity for real love, we can. We learn to move and breathe in a new way, until we realize one day how much stronger we are."