Just a small winkJen Dies
Or a nod
Or a kind smile
Starts off the current.
It moves at its own pace
Zapping and crackling in a subtle way
Touching one soul at a time
Conjuring up hope for one
And trust for another
In an infinite charge
Of Electric love
A friend sent me the above, inspired by kindness she witnessed at the checkout counter at the grocery store.
It is good energy, and she passed it along. From Atkinsons in Idaho, to me in Chicago, and back out to you, wherever you are. Enjoy the sentiment. How amazing that moment has rippled out so far?
Metta meditation does the same. Metta means loving kindness, and the Metta Meditation is a way to cultivate compassion. First, in our own hearts, and then generated outward. It is about purifying your own heart and mind.
Metta involves concentrating and reciting, silently or out loud, phrases of good wishes for yourself and for others.
It is designed to purify us of our ill will, and replace it with goodwill. You work up a ladder of sorts, starting with yourself, then family and friends, people you feel good about. Ultimately, and with compassion toward yourself, and as you are ready, you extend wishes for safety, happiness, and peace to those you dislike, and to those you consider your enemies.
It’s a tall order, but it will help you as much as it does the people you extend your love and kindness toward.
Metta is not a magical spell you cast on the whole population. It is not a cure for oppression. It is a way to get out of our heads, and the justified opinions which dominate our thoughts. When we live from the heart center, something much greater guides us. Thich Nhat Hanh says,
“The seeds of negativity are always there, but very positive seeds also exist, such as the seeds of compassion, tolerance and love. The seeds are all there in the soil, but without rain they cannot manifest. Our practice is to recognize and water the positive seeds.”
This makes me feel oh so much better, knowing that a Buddhist monk, on par in influence with the Dalai Lama, has the same seeds of doubt and anger that we all feel at times.
To love others, we first have to be loving and gentle with ourselves. This meditation helps us first to accept ourselves, including our suffering and happiness at the same time, and then to be able to wish others well.
With Metta, we are given a guide to cultivating compassion. I think of the Metta meditation below kind of like the Lord’s Prayer. It serves as a guide, when I can’t come up with nice thoughts on my own. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Same idea.
Years ago, we lost our beloved dog, run over by the mailman. He dropped the dog a block away, for my young children to find one very dark, cold December night, amidst an already tough period of post-moving re-entry. The event crushed our family. Literally and figuratively, it was a bloody mess. The anger that incubated toward our postman was unbearable. Letting go of the hurt has been a process.
At first I went to the postmaster, desperate to have the postman, Glenn, off our route, but it became clear there was no affecting change there. In the midst of my devastation and ensuing irate reactions, a wise friend mentioned that maybe I consider what the experience must have been like for Glenn. What must that have been like to walk the block with our lifeless dog in his arms, covered in blood? And since then, I’ve thought a bunch about what kind of disconnection he must regularly feel, being so limited in his capacity to communicate.
Amidst my anger and cold blooded hatred, my friend planted a seed of forgiveness and compassion. In the four years that have passed, I’ve started, little by little, to begin to welcome Glenn’s presence in my house, each day, when he opens our front door to drop the mail. I haven’t done the formalized Metta prayer below, but I’m working my way through this process of forgiveness. We have arrived now at “Hello,” “Thank you,” and “Have a nice day.” I know, that Glenn knows, that through this simple exchange, he is forgiven.
Feeling and showing compassion for Glenn doesn’t bring my dog back, but it has healed my broken heart. And I think my kids are experiencing this too. They saw my craze during the aftermath of the incident, and they observed my pursuit of “justice,” just as they now see me letting go of my anger.
I suspect Glenn has felt some relief too. In some weird way I am glad he is still our mailman. It forced me through a process I might never have imagined would be healing. Compassion helps. Every one of us can use it.
Below is a mediation from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Fear. Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm. I am making it my practice this Holy Week. Please join me:
A meditation a fifth Century C.E. systemization of the Buddha’s teachings. Sit still, calm your body and breathe:
May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May I be safe and free from injury.
May I be free from fear, anxiety, anger, and affliction.
The sitting position is a wonderful position for practicing this. Sitting still, you are not too preoccupied with other matters, so you can look deeply at yourself as you are, cultivate your love for yourself, and determine your best ways to express this love in the world.
After practicing this way, you can begin to offer this appreciation to others:
May she be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May he be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May they be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May she be safe and free from injury.
May he be safe and free from injury.
May they be safe and free from injury.
May she be free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.
May he be free from anger, afflictions, fear and anxiety.
May they be free from anger, afflictions, fear and anxiety.
When offering this aspiration, try it first on someone you like, then on someone neutral to you, then on someone you love, and finally on someone the mere thought of whom makes you suffer.