May This Practice Be of Benefit to All Beings

“May this practice be of benefit to all beings…” (Warning: You may encounter some brain science in this blog!)

One of my favorite teachers, renowned meditation teacher Sally Kempton, often prefaces or ends her instruction with this compassionate dedication. You may have heard it yourself, in similar form, as Metta (lovingkindness) meditation. When we recite a Metta prayer, we’re acknowledging the compassion that is already within us, and like a healing light, consciously shining it on ourselves, our communities and families, and on the world around us (even those we perceive as our enemies).

It’s always intrigued me though, because I like to know how things really “work,” this idea that the simple act of sitting quietly in meditation or mindfully practicing asana could have some impact on anyone other than me or my own body, my own healing and personal growth. For so many years, as a neophyte yoga student and fledgling teacher, I was hell-bent on shining that light inwardly. I was on a serious quest for self-knowledge and relieving my own suffering. That was certainly the priority implied by many of the teachers, healers, and scholars I encountered. Whether body-centric, emotional, or philosophically focused, this was a common theme: “Go Inside, all will be revealed… and healed.”

The first time I heard Sally Kempton use this dedication, following a guided meditation that focused on the heart center, I felt a pang of recognition, along with a sense of relief. Relief that there could be a small possibility of selflessness involved in this act of inner exploration and self-reflection. That it was not only for the betterment of my own human experience, but could maybe offer some benefit THROUGH me, through my efforts. Let me put it more bluntly. What I really thought was, “Yay, it’s not about me for a change. Thank GOD!”

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing at all bad, or even selfish about focusing on one’s own healing and spiritual growth… it’s the oxygen mask metaphor, right? I suppose that had to be my focus at the time, particularly as a younger woman with many more blind spots and self-destructive habits to overcome, and a lot of searching to do. And it did offer me a generous amount of relief and healing, both physical and emotional. I’ve witnessed the same healing trajectory in so many of my students, through their internal efforts.

As my practice changes though, I am much more interested in bridging the divide that separates ME from YOU, my individual human experience from the ongoing experience of the students I teach and the people I engage with in the ordinary, everyday whirl of life. I’ve spent a vast amount of my life in my head, so to speak, and now I wish to engage, connect, empathize with my fellow beings.

According to author Dr. Daniel Siegel though, it’s normal and necessary for us to both go inside and to engage outside.