We are put on earth a little space
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
BUILDING SELF-RESPECT AND LOVING KINDNESS
The practice of loving-kindness recommends sending/giving/wishing
love, compassion, joy, and equanimity to ourselves and others. We beam each
of the four in turn, first to ourselves, then to those we love, those toward
whom we are indifferent, those with whom we have difficulties or who are
enemies, and finally toward all people everywhere.
Loving-kindness also grows in us through action as we practice virtues:
the habits of wholesomeness, the building blocks of self-respect, character,
and integrity. We begin by taking steps, however small, that lead toward
virtue. Interior shifts may follow, and then we are acting virtuously without
having to think about it or plan it. The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote of
this result: “My goodness now requires no thought but has become habit and
I cannot act but rightly.”
A spiritual practice of fine-tuning our virtues focuses on them as
specific affirmations and commitments to action. They are not meant to be
“shoulds” but gentle invitations that stir and steer us to new possibilities in
our way of living. The virtues that equip us to grow in loving-kindness are
challenges and opportunities not demands or obligations.
The list that follows may be inspiring but also intimidating. Very few
of us can achieve all of these ideals to the fullest. But nonetheless, we can set
our bar high and then try making some strides and leaps. Any advance we
make, however small, frees us from our familiar fear-based, ego-centeredness
and we begin building new habits of healthy love for ourselves and others.
These practices are not strategies by which we seek to gain perfection
or happiness but simply what we do and who we at the heart level. Our
destiny is to display in our lifetime the timeless design of goodness that has
always been inside us. Virtuous choices that open us to spontaneous honesty
and loving-kindness help us do that. We will even feel the results in our
bodies. We lengthen and expand to take our rightful space in the world. We
feel a warmth coming through us to others in a physical way. Virginia Woolf
expressed it best: “Things are losing their hardness. Even my body now lets
the light through.”
There are many ways to use the list that follows:
Ponder one virtue each day or each week and look for ways to
design your behavior accordingly.
Use the listings for meditation on your own ethical choices.
Say them aloud as daily aspirations or affirmations, one each
day or a few at a time.
Consider them to be a checklist on your progress in virtuous
living and keep coming back to them.
Ask someone you love and trust to give you feedback on how you
reflect or do not fully reflect the virtues listed.
More and more, I say yes to the givens of human life: Everything will
change and end; things will not always go according to my plans; life will not
always be fair or pain-free; and people will not always be loving, honest,
generous, or loyal.
No matter what happens to me, I am looking for ways to remain personally
grounded, i.e., no longer swayed by fear or desire.
The events in life and the actions of others impact me, but they no longer
have to impinge upon me. I can find ways to remain secure within myself
and, at the same time, connected to others.
I try my best to keep my word, to honor my commitments, and to follow
through on the tasks I agree to do. Accepting my limits and skills is helping
me set sane boundaries on how much I offer to do for others, rather than
simply be accommodating in order to please or appease others.
I want to have an unwavering sense of myself as a person of conviction
while still remaining flexible. I am more able each day to drop outmoded
beliefs and to become more open and inclusive, the most appropriate stance
in this wonderfully various world.
I am thankful for the set of values that I received in the course of my life
from so many sources. At the same time, I am examining the scaffoldings of
beliefs, biases, assumptions, and myths I inherited from family, school,
religion, and society. One by one, I seek to dismantle and discard those not in
keeping with healthy and virtuous living and to cherish those that are.
I can now measure my success by how much steadfast love I have, not by
how much I have in the bank, how much I achieve in business, nor by how
much power I have over others. Expressing my full and unique capacity to
love is becoming the central focus of my life.
I am less and less under the blinding influence of the four main streets that
direct so many attitudes and lifestyles: Madison Avenue, Tin Pan Alley, Wall
Street, and Hollywood Boulevard.
I am enthusiastically seeking, or have found, meaningful work and projects,
and that is the source of my bliss. I keep discovering my deepest needs,
wishes, values, and potentials and living more and more, in accord with them.
I have reason to be proud of some accomplishments. Thoreau wrote in his
journal: “A man looks with pride at his woodpile.” My serious commitment to
the practices on these pages is my “woodpile.”
I ask this question as I embark upon any relationship or project: Is this a
suitable context for me to fulfill my life purpose? My life purpose is to live
out the unique and exuberant potential that is inside me, to love with all my
might, and to share my personal gifts in any way and everywhere I can.
I appreciate how much I benefit from others who share their gifts with me.
I am willing to work indefatigably to fulfill my life purpose but not to stress
my health to acquire standing, status, fame, or fortune, which are the central
and often the only values in the ego’s always uneasy world. My focus in life is
simply on becoming a good person.
I am letting go of the need to keep up appearances or to project an
impressive self-image. I notice that I am more willing to appear as I am,
without pretense and no matter how unflattering. As I settle into the reality
of who I am, with pride in my gifts and unabashed awareness of my limits, I
notice myself being happier.
I notice that my behavior and choices no longer have to be quite so
determined by what others may think of me. I am giving up my attempts to
get others to accept or love me. I do not want to have to change myself in
order to fit in. I am gradually becoming committed to portraying myself just
as I am, no matter what the reaction of others.
I no longer let myself be manipulated by flattery, but I do show my thanks
when others appreciate me.
I am not perfect, but I am sincerely committed to working on myself. I am
noticing that the more I engage in my personal work, the more do I find
myself caring about the world and the part I am privileged to play in its cocreation.
As I struggle with regret or self-reproach because of the mistakes I have
made in life, I am no longer ashamed of my ongoing fallibility. I take it all as
a learning experience so I can do better in the future. I make amends
wherever I can. My mistakes are becoming a valuable passport to humility
and to compassion toward myself and others.
I keep examining my conscience with honesty but not with shame. I am
taking searching inventories not only about how I may have hurt others, but
also about how I may not have activated or shared my gifts and potentials,
how I may still be holding on to prejudices or the will to retaliate, how I may
still not be as loving as I can be.
I am less and less afraid of free speech, my own or that of others. I am
learning to listen carefully to others’ feedback rather than becoming
defensive or ego-aroused by it. I even want to welcome feedback that shows
me where I am less caring than I can be, where I am less tolerant, where less
open. When I am shown up as a pretender or called on being inauthentic, I
take it as information about what I have to work on.
More and more, I blow the whistle on myself when I notice myself being
phony, untruthful, passive-aggressive, or manipulative. I notice it is possible
to come clean right then and there by admitting that I am acting falsely.
I am becoming more willing to express and to receive feelings, including
fear, joy, grief, and tenderness. I am practicing ways to show anger
nonviolently, not in abusive, threatening, blaming, or out-of-control ways.
I can become stronger in asking for what I want without demand,
manipulation, or expectation. As I remain respectful of the timing, wishes,
and limits of others, I can take no for an answer.
I forego taking advantage of anyone because of his ignorance, status,
position, or financial straits.
I do not want to use any charms of body, word, or mind to trick or seduce
I am less and less competitive in relationships and find an uplifting joy in
cooperation and community. I especially shun situations in which my
winning means that others have to lose.
I am choosing not to push others aside so that I can get ahead. I choose
neither to exalt myself nor to abase myself. Instead, I take my turn without
complaint at being first, last, or midway in the long series of line-ups that life
has in store for all of us.
I do not knowingly hurt others. If they hurt me, I do not have to retaliate,
only open a dialogue and ask for amends. No matter what, I do not choose to
hate anyone or hold grudges.
I act kindly toward others not to impress or obligate them but because I
really am kind—or working on it. If others fail to thank me or to return my
kindness, that does not have to stop me from being loving nonetheless.
I never give up on others. I believe that everyone has an innate goodness
and that being loved can release it.
I have a sense of humor but not at the expense of others. I am less and less
apt to engage in ridicule, teasing, or sarcasm, or to use “comebacks” when
others are sarcastic toward me. I seek simply to feel the pain in both of us and
look for ways to bring more mutual respect into our communication.
I notice how in some groups there are people who are humiliated or
excluded. Rather than be comforted that I am still an insider, I want to sense
the pain in being an outsider. Then I can reach out, speak up, and include
everyone in my circle of love and respect.
More and more, I look at other people and their choices without censure. I
still notice the shortcomings of others and of myself, but now I am beginning
to see them as facts to deal with rather than flaws to be ashamed of. I do not
laugh at people’s mistakes, distresses, or misfortunes. I feel compassion
I avoid Criticizing, Interfering, or giving Advice that is not specifically
asked for. I take care of myself by staying away from those who use this CIA
approach toward me.
I am becoming more able to say “Ouch!” to pain and abuse in jobs,
relationships, and interactions with others. I want to take action to change
what can be changed and to move on when things remain abusive. I do this
without self-pity or the need to make others wrong. When I stand up for my
rights, I do not have to gloat if I am vindicated nor do I have to seek revenge
if I am not vindicated.
I am making sincere attempts to abide by standards of rigorous honesty and
truthfulness in all my dealings no matter how others act toward me. My
question is not “What can I get away with?” but “What is the right thing to
do?” If I fall down in this, I can admit it, make amends, and resolve to act
differently next time. Now I more easily and willingly apologize when
I am learning not to be swayed by opportunities for gain, by sweet talk or
rhetoric, or by any other seductions to transgress my boundaries or to act
I cherish the joy of a good conscience more than what I may gain or what I
can get away with.
I am focusing on becoming consistent: At home or in relationship I want to
be the same person I am at work. I choose to show the same respect and
sincerity toward strangers as I show toward those close to me.
In intimate relationships, I put effort into honoring equality, keeping
agreements, working through problems, and acting in loving ways. My goal is
not to use my relationship to gratify my ego but to dispossess myself of ego to
gratify the relationship.
More and more, my sexuality expresses love, passion, and joyful
playfulness. I am letting go of the guilt and phobias of childhood in favor of a
responsible adult style of relating and enjoying.
I am learning to keep better tabs on my use of food, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.,
knowing they can be vehicles of addiction. I am always looking for ways to
commit myself to moderation without self-inhibition.
I am aware of the pain and poverty of those less fortunate than myself. I
keep finding ways to respond generously with time, attention, money, and
Confronted with the suffering in the world, I do not turn my eyes away, nor
do I get stuck in blaming God or humanity but simply ask: “What then shall I
do?” I respond to pain in others with a plan to help, even if it has to be
minimal: “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”
My work on myself is making me more conscious of the political issues of
the world. I am learning to question authority. I am looking for ways to work
for an end to war, retaliation, greed, hate, and ignorance. I have not given up
on believing in the possibility of a transformation of the world and of every
political and religious leader.
I am committing myself to resisting evil and fighting injustice in
nonviolent ways. This is how I focus on restorative justice, not retributive
I am distressed and feel myself called to action by the disasters of pollution,
global warming, economic oppression, nuclear armaments, and the violations
of human rights. I keep thinking globally and acting locally in any ways I
My love of nature makes me tread gently on the earth with what Saint
Bonaventure called “a courtesy toward natural things.”
Though I am not always successful in virtuous living, these are the ideals I
am shooting for, the values I am placing an intention to live by.
I appreciate a spiritual energy in whatever love, wisdom, or healing power I
may have or show. What is in me is not from me but through me. I say thanks
for these encouraging graces and yes to the stirring call to live up to them.
To be human is to be born into the world with something to achieve, namely, the
fullness of one’s human nature, and it is through the virtues that one does so. . . . The
virtues are the only guarantee against a wasted life. –Paul Wadell, C.P.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Richo, Ph.D., M.F.T., is a psychotherapist, teacher, and writer in Santa Barbara and
San Francisco California who emphasizes Jungian, transpersonal, and spiritual perspectives
in his work. He is the author of many books about personal unfoldment and spiritual
development. A list of of his books, with links to purchase them around the world, is
presented on the pages that follow in cooperation with
Human Development Books’ Global Find-A-Book Service.
Dr. Richo’s CDs, tapes and books online catalog,
serving the US and Canada,
can be viewed on the web at: www.davericho.com
This article is part of the free PDF e-book,