The Spirit of Paying It Forward

Lainie Devina via YogaWorksBlog, 11/04/2016

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

November marks the beginning of the holiday season, a time of family traditions, cultural festivities, and community celebrations. At root, the spirit of the season is of gratitude and compassion, which is why many of us may feel a deeper connection to those around us. When we take time to focus on our blessings, we have the opportunity to tap into a natural goodwill that we want to express.

You may have heard of Metta, the concept in Buddhism that translates into English as “loving-kindness”. It describes a type of caring, unconditional, and wise compassion that we feel but may not have a word for. On the mat, a beautiful way to explore this feeling is by consciously concentrating on it in our internal practice in order to make it the intention that guides our actions in the world.

One way to do this is with something called a Metta Meditation, which is a practice in which we repeat phrases wishing happiness and freedom from suffering to different people. The traditional structure is to direct the loving-kindness to yourself, someone you love, a neutral person, and someone who challenges you, before expanding to encompass all beings in the world. In my own personal practice, I often focus my attention on someone in need, or someone with whom I am in conflict so that I may soften any reactions I am experiencing and remember our common humanity.

Though I have seen different version of Metta Meditation, here is the one that I direct to the person I am holding in my heart:

May you feel safe.
May you feel loved.
May you feel happy.
May you feel at peace.

The beauty of Metta Meditation is that it demonstrates the power of how your thoughts can affect your attitude. The magic of repeating loving wishes for someone helps us remember that we are all the same. Though our stories are different, we are all traveling the same journey in life of growth, and we are all worthy of the same generosity of spirit. This inner alchemy can uplift your heart to higher awareness and can cultivate deep compassion.

So how do we turn this quiet practice into action? How can we harness the compassionate spirit of the season to positively affect those around us? By consciously creating awareness of the connections of our community and of our many blessings, we can choose to pay it forward.

Paying it forward is a powerful concept: instead of paying back what we’ve been given, we shift our focus to using the abundance that we’ve received to benefit others. In intention, paying it forward is the embodiment of loving-kindness energy being spread into the world. The kindness may take the form of concrete generosity (like paying for the coffee of someone behind you in Starbucks), but what we are really doing is telling someone that they are “seen” and a vital part of our community. If you feel inspired to act but don’t know where to start, here are some simple ideas:

• Leave an anonymous note of appreciation for someone
• Spend time with an elderly person and listen to their stories
• Drop off dinner or offer to babysit for busy parents
• Add a few extra quarters to someone’s parking meter
• Be generous and genuine with kind compliments
• Put away the props of a classmate after class
• Donate things you can spare – time, food, clothes
• Let someone cut in line at the grocery store if you notice they are rushed
• Organize a group of friends to volunteer for a cause

Ultimately, paying it forward does so much more than bring a smile to the face of a stranger or friend. It reinforces and reminds us of the interconnectedness of humanity. By infusing loving-kindness into our personal practice on the mat and our actions out into the world, it radiates through the whole, benefiting and bettering us all.