Saying bedtime prayers in difficult times

Bench by Jenny Holzer, at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Venice, Italy

Bench by Jenny Holzer, at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Venice, Italy

I don’t know about you, but last night I had a very tough time going to sleep. I was too heartbroken and angry over the most recent world events—the most recent massacre (those words I just wrote send a chill through my blood—how to respond when tragedy becomes chronic?)—to settle in and go to sleep.

Which set me to thinking about all of the other people who must have been lying awake in the night just as I was: The people in Nice, in Paris, Bangladesh, Iraq, and in Orlando, and Dallas .. There are the children who saw images on TV that they can’t rub from their eyes when they crawl into bed–and their parents who can’t stop hearing gunshots, or explosions, or screams, or sirens—even when there is silence all around.

Then there’s the fact that sleep doesn’t come easily to us all, nor does it come equally to us all, even on an ordinary day, when only the scandals of minor political players grab headlines. Whether because of homelessness, poverty, domestic violence, childhood abuse, illness, addiction, street violence, terrorist threats or all-out war, far too many people are deprived of a safe environment (in both the physical and psychological sense) in which to rest and sleep.

Not knowing what else to do in the face of such unrest—both political and personal—we “send our love” via Facebook and other Social Media sits to those affected, while our leaders and public figures send their prayers to the families and friends of who’ve been killed. But we all know saying prayers and wishing on stars is not enough. Our words and sentiments can’t produce the instant magic of our childhood imaginations.

Then again, when delivered with sincerity, prayers and well-wishes aren’t such a bad place to start. Sending out good thoughts, in the form of prayer, wish, desire, intention, imagination, or dream does count, I believe. Focusing on how we feel and what we want for our world helps us to keep our hearts open and connected, which is a first step and essential step toward creating conditions where seeds of peace and love might someday grow.

One of my favorite practices for softening my own heart and connecting with others is metta, or loving-kindness meditation, in which one offers wishes for love, happiness, health, and protection for oneself, loved ones, friends, and the wider community—eventually including all beings.

There are many forms of metta meditation and instructions are available in various books or on the Internet. In the meantime, here are simple instructions to get you started.

  1. Sit quietly, and breathe into your heart.
  2. Think about something you love about yourself, and feel your heart fill with appreciation.
  3. Direct three to five simple heartfelt wishes to yourself, such as, “May I be happy, may I be loved, and may I live in safety and peace.” Repeat these wishes several times, coordinating the phrases with your breath.
  4. Now think of someone you love unconditionally, such as a family member or child, and do the same for him or her.
  5. Repeat this exercise of filling your heart with love and extending wishes to someone in each of your circles. Continue to move outward to a friend, then an acquaintance, a stranger, someone with whom you have a difficult relationship, and finally all people and all beings.

There’s no one set script for this meditation. You can adapt it to make the words meaningful to you.

Try doing this metta meditation each night before bed. Don’t be discouraged if it feels difficult at first. Extending loving kindness to all people without exception isn’t easy. Be gentle with yourself, and if you get stuck, simply return to directing loving kindness to yourself or someone you love unconditionally. Over time it will become easier. And in the process you’ll build your heart’s capacity for empathy, love, and ultimately—for right action.

[adapted from Joy in Every Moment: Mindful Exercises for Waking to the Wonders of Ordinary Life, by Tzivia Gover]

May you dream and be well.