Dr. Velayudhan explains how growing up Hindu and loving-kindness meditation practice has molded the way she faces life on and off the cushion. “I am learning that by being friendly toward our own discomfort, fears, doubts, anxieties, and uncertainties we can more easily be with these feelings when they percolate in our patients, friends, and family members.”
Friendliness as a Superpower
by Nalini Velayudhan, DO
Growing up in a Hindu household, we were taught to greet others with hands touching in front of our hearts—in Anjali mudra—saying “Namaste,” as we gently bowed our heads acknowledging the radiant being within them. The literal translation of the word Namaste is “I bow to you;” “Namah(s)” bow, “te” to you. A salutation of respect and reverence, Namaste is a spiritual revelation of the essence of oneness of all beings. The practice reinforced in us that every being has an innate goodness, dignity, and sacredness. It taught us to be friendly and kind toward all which I carried with me as I cared for patients. As I became a mother, I learned a song about Namaste from a yoga teacher that I taught my sons; “I bow to you, you bow to me, the light in me sees the light in you, namaste, namaste, namaste.” It was a fun and musical way to teach them the age-old traditions and impart to them the significance of holding others as divine and beautiful just as they are. It was me passing on the inheritance of the superpower of friendliness to my sons. Perhaps this was also my way of introducing them to a succinct meditation practice rich in meaning and depth.
My meditation practice deepened in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic tightened its grip on the healthcare system and its practitioners. The space graciously provided by the meditation teachers allowed vulnerabilities to be shared, worries to be aired and emotions to be held. Loving-Kindness is my favorite meditation practice as it served as a warm and welcoming doorway for me to enter the space of loving awareness, compassion, and friendliness within. In the Pali language, loving-kindness is “Metta,” which means friend, one who is gentle, constant, serves as a helper, a protector, and a refuge in our time of suffering. In loving-kindness meditation, we offer unconditional and genuine wishes to see ourselves and others be safe, happy, and joyful. Loving-Kindness is a practice rooted in Buddhist philosophy and is one of the four Brahma-Viharas, or heavenly abodes. When we establish ourselves in loving-kindness (Metta) meditation, we can tap into the other three Brahma-Viharas which include compassion (Karuna), sympathetic joy (Mudita), and equanimity (Upekkha.) This outpouring of goodwill stems from a heart that is open, tender, and optimistic. Loving-kindness meditation is traditionally practiced using phrases such as the ones developed by Sharon Salzberg and based on the Buddhist philosophy of “Metta”:
“May you be safe, May you be happy, May you be free of suffering, May you live with ease.”
As Sharon Salzberg states in Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness “Metta is the ability to embrace all parts of ourselves, as well as all parts of the world. Practicing Metta illuminates our inner integrity because it relieves us of the need to deny different aspects of ourselves. We can open to everything with the healing force of love. When we feel love, our mind is expansive and open enough to include the entirety of life in full awareness, both its pleasures and its pains, we feel neither betrayed by pain or overcome by it, and thus we can contact that which is undamaged within us regardless of the situation.” When we can touch into Metta or loving-kindness within ourselves, we can choose to bring loving awareness to our present moment and shift our energy toward compassion and friendliness. As one who embodies “Metta,” we as physicians can become a friend, and fellow travelers, accompanying our patients and each other on the journey of providing care.
Research on loving-kindness practice has shown that it is psychoactive, changes the neural pathways in the brain so that you become more other-focused than self-focused, increases empathic concern, and increases positive feelings. It is linked to the mammalian caretaking circuitry. As Barbara Fredrickson has written from years of research in her book Love 2.0 Creating Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection, “With practice, you’ll find you can generate love anytime you wish. Love will become a renewable resource that you can tap to fuel your own well-being, and the well-being of all those within your radius.”
In my ongoing practice, I am learning that by being friendly toward our own discomfort, fears, doubts, anxieties, and uncertainties we can more easily be with these feelings when they percolate in our patients, friends, and family members. This inner landscape we mine in our loving-kindness practice can serve us outside of practice when we are off the cushion. In practicing loving-kindness meditation, our inner wisdom, spaciousness, and a wider perspective is revealed to us. We can use this energy of friendliness as our superpower as we provide the medicine of not just vital drugs, therapies, and interventions but also provide the medicine of love, kindness, and compassion. With Loving-Kindness we can generate goodwill for another in ever-expansive ripples that reach beyond those we care deeply about to those suffering in distant places we may never come to know. We realize that we are all one.
May we know we belong to one another as human beings.
May we know we are accompanying one another through these pandemic times.
May we know we are held in this community of physician colleagues in safety.
May we know even as we feel wounded, broken and burnt out
the divinity within us gives us the capacity to heal, become whole and burn bright.
I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells.
I honor the place in you, which is of love, of truth, of light, and of peace.
When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, we are one.
Heartfelt gratitude to devotees and teachers accompanying me: Mindfulness Meditation teacher, Nandini Narayanan LCSW, and the loving-kindness class she leads weekly. Compassion Cultivation teacher, Laura Banks and the compassion cultivation class she leads monthly. Mindful Self-Compassion BIPOC group of women that gather weekly.