The dream Don Bosco had when he was just nine years old, remains one of the foundation stories in the Salesian tradition. Looking back on his life, Don Bosco could see in that dream, many of the core elements of what was to evolve as his path to holiness.
The dream is situated in a field where a group of boys are fighting with each other. They are angry, they are hurting, they are wild. A shepherd appears to the young John and then the shepherd’s mother. She teaches John that the way to help these youngsters is not by adding to their violence, but by showing them loving kindness. Through concrete and genuine kindness, the field of hurt and anger was transformed into a field of joy, a field of confidence, a field of young dreams. The word Don Bosco used for this loving kindness was the word, bontà.
Although living a life of loving kindness is really a grace, a gift of the Spirit, our human nature can also help by being open to receive this gift. This is not always easy however. Often in our lives, there in the background, we can harbour feelings of hurt, disappointment and sadness. What is sometimes referred to as our “background emotionality”, can make it difficult for us to be positive and kindly towards other people. Our centre can seem too fragile to be generous. We don’t have the energy to be expansive. If we stretch any more we fear we will snap.
There is a very ancient meditation practice which can help us be more disposed to the grace of bontà, the gift of loving kindness. It is a practice which can help shift some of the negative emotionality which can linger in the background of our lives, and instead lead us to more positive and peaceful ways of being.
The practice involves the repeating of a formula or a prayer over and over, very gently, and in a way in which we really mean what we are saying. This is a meditation which we can practice when we are sitting quietly on our own, when we are walking, travelling on a bus or in almost any circumstance in which we find ourselves.
What we do is we bring a person into our awareness. The person can be a friend, or a stranger, like the person sitting opposite you on a train, or someone you pass in a supermarket. In time, you may also be able to bring into your awareness a person towards whom you have feelings of ill will, someone who has annoyed you, someone who has even hurt you. Whoever it is, you hold that person in your awareness and wish him/her the blessing: May you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering. Very gently you repeat the blessing over and over, while holding the chosen person in your mind and heart.
After a few minutes, you may chose to bring another person into your awareness, and then repeat the blessing over and over again. Sometimes it is good to wish the blessing of loving kindness on yourself: May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering.
In time we may wish to bring into our awareness people who have died, people who suffer in various parts of the world. The grace of loving kindness can open out to everyone. This practice is not a magic formula to transform our lives, but over the centuries, its repeated practice has been a great help to those who wish to cultivate loving kindness in their lives.
And so to you the reader, wherever you are right now, May you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering.