Over winter break, so close to the holidays, the Lewis University community lost one of its fellow students, Steven Seum, who had just graduated after completing the fall semester. Steve was a fellow peer, as we shared numerous English classes together, which grew our friendship as he became a dear friend of mine. I want to dedicate this blog post to Steve and all that he has taught me, in such a short amount of time, about being someone who is patient, kind, and loving.
John Kabat-Zinn, in his mindfulness meditation book, Wherever You Go There You Are, (which I also wrote about in my previous piece) attributes a section to this idea of “loving kindness meditation.” Kabat-Zinn suggests that we resonate with one another’s sorrows because we are all interconnected. Being whole and simultaneously part of a larger whole, we can change the world simply by changing ourselves. If I become a center of love and kindness in this moment then in a perhaps small but hardly insignificant way, the world now has a nucleolus of love and kindness it lacked the moment before. This benefits me and it benefits others (Kabat-Zinn 162).
You may have noticed that you are not always a center of love and kindness, and I certainly was not initially very nice to Steve when I first met him in an English Studies course in the fall of 2017. It was one of the first days of class, and Steve and I had sat next to each other near the front of the classroom — both of us making an effort to make a good first impression on our professor. Further trying to build my ethos with my instructor, I sat there quietly listening to expectations regarding the course syllabus and all the future assignments I would have to spend sleepless nights completing, when Steve leaned his head over to me and said with a silly grin on his face, “Do you want to see a picture of my chicken?”
Holding his cell phone in his lap with both hands tilting it over in my direction, I just remember giggling a little, because these were the first words we had ever spoken to each other. Usually people do not start a conversation right off the bat with, “Do you want to see a picture of my chicken?” I instantly looked up at the teacher to make sure she had not heard me laughing, as it was not meant to be disrespectful. Steve showed me the picture of his new chicken that he had been keeping in his backyard, and he did not realize, at the time, that I actually have a phobia of birds or anything with wings, so he continued the conversation by telling me how this chicken of his had laid an egg that morning.
It was evident that Steve was happy and excited about his chicken, and the eggs it was laying by his constant smile that pulled his cheeks up all the way to his black glasses. However, I, on the other hand, was judging him mistakenly, for being a little strange and goofy. I had not been loving or very kind to Steve in our first encounters and exchanges of words, because I had judged him for someone he was not.
As our relationship grew throughout the course of the semester — and seeing him every day in all of our classes together — my opinion of him started to develop and change. Turns out that he was actually a very sweet and caring man. In one of our night classes together, my stomach kept interrupting the class with loud grumblings for cries of food. I was running late to class, and did not have time to eat dinner. Steve pulled out a snack from his backpack and told me I could have it, and then he even shared his delicious Sour Patch Kids with me.
Food is indeed the fastest way to my heart, but he had also shared with me stories of his two adorable little girls, along with his personal struggles throughout life. I had a newfound appreciation for Steve through hearing his story, and learning more about his family. Steve really taught me that you cannot judge someone immediately; you must be kind and tender towards new people because the fact of the matter is you do not know them.
Kabat-Zinn highlights this lesson in his book, and lends his readers some guidance on how to practice “loving kindness meditation.” Kabatt-Zinn suggests that you must first start by centering yourself in your posture and in your breathing. Then, from your heart or from your belly, invite feelings or images of kindness and love to radiate until they fill your whole being. Allow yourself to be cradled by your own awareness as if you were as deserving of loving kindness as any child. Bask in this positive energy by breathing it in and breathing it out.
You can even take the practice further by shifting the loving and kindness outwardly. Whoever it is you would like to meditate on, hold them in your mind’s eye and in your heart, visualizing their essential selves and wishing them well — that they not suffered needlessly; that they come to know their true way in the world; and that they may experience love and acceptance. By doing this, it can benefit yourself and others as you will start to develop, refine, and extend your emotional being.
This extension matures as you purposefully direct loving kindness toward people you have a hard time with, towards those you dislike or are repulsed by, as well as those who threaten you or have hurt you. This can become a healing process for you, and a way to grow as a more complete person. This meditation practice is an ongoing ever-expanding realization of interconnectedness.
“Love and kindness are here all the time, somewhere, in fact, everywhere. Usually our ability to touch them and be touched by them lies buried below our own fears and hurts, below our greed and our hatreds, below our desperate clinging to the illusion that we are truly separate and alone.”
— John Kabat-Zinn.
Kindness can change the world.
R.I.P. Steven Seum
— Andrea Holm, Mindfulness Blogger