In Comfortable with uncertainty, Pema Chödrön explains how to meditate using the four limitless qualities of Loving-Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity--
May ____ enjoy loving-kindness.
May ____ be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May ____ not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering.
May ____ dwell in the great equanimity free from passion, aggression, and prejudice.
Her suggestions for extending these qualities to the self and others motivated me to follow a aspiration practice as part of an early morning prayer. Shortly after waking up I would offer aspirations for myself, then my husband, then anyone else in the house, then the neighborhood, the city, the State, the Nation, the Continent, and finally all of the Creation.
I found the practice both pleasant and frustrating. Pleasant to send out affirmations to a widening circle of the well-wished. Frustrating trying to remember which stage of the prayer I had reached. Had I remembered to wish my household joy? Had I skip the city and move straight to the State? Clearly my morning fog brain was not up to the task.
I also found myself wondered what the Christian equivalent of the four limitless qualities would be. Not that these aspirations are un-Christian, just that I wondered if there were aspirations that were more Christian. Specifically, how could I re-write the descriptions of compassion, joy, and equanimity to make them sound more Christian?
No ready solution for these frustrations and questions occurred to me. I kept offering the affirmations as best I could until the morning when I thought of σῴζω.
One of my seminary professors (either Sondra Matthaei, Kristen Kvam, Emilie Townes, or Kristine Culp) had lectured on the multiple meanings of sozo, Greek for “I save” or “I am saving.” She taught our class that it could mean saving or healing or rescuing, or making whole. Then she expounded on the implications of a soteriology based on the idea that salvation is about being made whole.
Unfortunately, she had lost my attention at that point. The suggestion that the concept of salvation involved more than I had previously considered was too compelling to listen to the rest of the lecture. I was preoccupied with my own thoughts, ones which I no longer remember. I only recall the feeling of tuning out the professor and my classmates while I ruminated on Wholeness.
This recollection gave me the permission I needed to simplify my morning aspiration.
May I experience your wholeness today.
May my household experience your wholeness today.
May everyone in the neighborhood experience your wholeness today.
May everyone in the city experience your wholeness today.
May everyone in the State experience your wholeness today.
May everyone in the Nation experience your wholeness today.
May everyone in this hemisphere experience your wholeness today.
May all of your Creation experience your wholeness today.
Even if it is only for a brief mirco-moment, may wholeness be ours.
This is much easier for me to pray upon waking. I rarely skip over anyone now. It’s a peaceful way to start the day, and I plan to keep at it.
This meditation is especially helpful when I wake up too early, say 2:00 or 3:00 AM. I start with myself, shift my attention to my husband, then the others in the house, and then I picture a map zooming out by stages until my attention encompasses the globe. Often I drift back to sleep after completing the last aspiration.
Further ways to expand the aspirations-- extend it to my enemies, extend it out into the cosmos.
Sometimes the aspiration for the Creation evokes a reaction in me, one which deserves its own post.