Loving-Kindness: Taking Care

By Chandra Allen

Before Christmas, the Woman to Woman group gathered at Scarritt Bennett Center for our monthly Circle meeting. This year our theme is “Identity: Culture, Community, and Self.” So far we have explored what it means to be part of culture – culture we have chosen and culture that has been imposed on us. We have discussed how we begin to create the culture that we want as we develop our leadership capacity. We have named some of the obstacles we face as well as given voice to the re-imagination of what culture can look like on both the micro and macro levels – the personal and the global.

For many of us, this holiday season is a distinct part of our culture (whether it is something we embrace or something that has been imposed on us). This season can bring much joy and cheer, but we acknowledge that it can also bring deep sadness, anxiety, and overwhelm. In our meeting, we wanted to be attentive to the various emotions that come to the surface during this season. Here are a few of the questions that we led with in our discussion: What do you need to feel whole? What are your hopes for the New Year? What do you need to feel home? We considered these questions and a few others in small groups and shared our questions, insights, challenges, and successes with one another. The conversations that happen in the Woman to Woman Circle meetings are so life giving because we meet each other honestly and openly. We share our collective wisdom and insight with one another. We sit in the tough spaces with one another. We encourage one another to the go that next step, take that risk, and relish that success.

In addition to our small group discussions, we also wanted to offer tangible practices that might help us be more attentive to cultivating wholeness in our lives. At this meeting, one of our group members led us in a Qi-gong meditation. We gathered in a circle and slowly, beautifully we started our movements as our facilitator for the night guided us. We were told to pay attention to our breathing; our movements were slow and intentional. My muscles relaxed. All the things that were swirling in my mind fell away for a few minutes. I was in the moment focusing on my movement and my breath. This was a new experience for me and one that brought with it a welcome reprieve and re-connection to my core being.

This is the Meta Prayer that our facilitator shared with us:

May you be filled with loving-kindness.

May you be strong, healthy, and vital. May you be free from internal and external harm.

May you have a calm, clear mind and a peaceful, loving heart.

May you know love, joy, wonder, and wisdom, in this life, just as it is.

We did this with smooth simple motions – saying this prayer to ourselves and to each of the following: family, friends, to the stranger, to the challenging ones, to all beings. It was a beautiful practice of sending out prayers and receiving them back. It was a practice of cultivating love for ourselves and for others, for embracing the potential for wholeness in a broken world.

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I learned that Qigong is an ancient Chinese practice of gentle movement that is meant to calm minds, reconnect with spirit, help focus on breath, and help focus intentions. “Qi”- means life force and “Gong” means accomplishment and put together Qigong means “cultivating energy.”[1] One of the unique things about Qigong is that it is a combination of internal and external movements. While this is a brief and simplistic explanation of Qi-gong, it helped me to appreciate this practice of movement exercise.

By my own doing in many ways, this season does not offer me much time to slow down. Instead of letting this be a reflective time, I pack more in to my schedule than I can handle. The state of our country, of our world, is heartbreaking to me as well. I try to make meaning out of the suffering and injustice that is all around us with a renewed fervor right now. My heart is troubled and I am worn out.

For a few minutes during the Qi-gong meditation, I was just in the moment. A moment that was full of promise for hope and peace. A moment to look toward cultivating wholeness. A moment to be grateful for activists and the seekers of justice and mercy who are engaged in efforts of protest and witness. A moment to be grateful. A moment to let my mind be still.

If your heart has been troubled like mine, if you are caught up in the busy-ness of the season, or if you simply need a new resource for reflection and meditation, I encourage you to use the Meta Prayer above. The Meta Prayer is my current wish for you and for me.

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Chandra Allen is a native Nashvillian.  She earned a Bachelor’s degree in German from Davidson College in North Carolina and a Master of Divinity degree from Vanderbilt Divinity School.  She is currently an Assistant Director of Education, Programs, and Connections at Scarritt-Bennett Center where she plans programs focused on women’s leadership and women’s empowerment.  Chandra is passionate about creating an authentic environment where women and men gather to explore and awaken the strength of their voices, experiences, and creativity to effect positive change in their communities and for themselves