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. Good energy she passed 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. We do it first in our own hearts and then generate it outwards. It is about purifying our own hearts and minds.
Metta involves concentrating and reciting, silently or aloud, phrases of good wishes for yourself and for others.
It is designed to purify us of our ill will and replace it with goodwill. We work up a ladder of sorts, starting with ourselves and then moving to family and friends, people we feel good about. Ultimately, with compassion toward ourselves, as we are ready, we extend wishes for safety, happiness, and peace to those we dislike, and to those we consider our enemies.
It’s a tall order, but it will help us as much as it will the people toward whom we extend our love and kindness.
Metta is not a magical spell we 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 that 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, all our suffering and happiness rolled up, and then to be able to wish others well.
With Metta, we are given a guide to cultivating compassion. I liken the Metta meditation I’ve pasted below to 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, our beloved dog was run over by the mailman, Glenn. 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 reentry. 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.
As a first step, I visited the postmaster, desperate to have Glenn transferred off our route. It became clear there was no affecting change there. In the midst of my devastation and ensuing irate reactions, a wise friend suggested I consider what the experience must have been like for Glenn. To walk the block with our lifeless dog in his arms, covered in blood? Since then, I’ve thought a lot about the disconnection he must regularly feel, so limited in his capacity to communicate.
In my anger and cold-blooded hatred, my friend planted a seed of forgiveness and compassion. In the four years that have passed, I’ve begun, little by little, to welcome Glenn’s presence in my house when he opens our front door each day to drop the mail. I haven’t extended the formalized Metta prayer below, but I’m working my way through this process of forgiveness. We’re currently 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. I think my kids are experiencing this, too. They saw my craze in the aftermath of the incident, they observed my pursuit of “justice,” and, now, they see me letting go of my anger.
I suspect Glenn has felt some relief, too. Oddly, I am glad he is still our mailman. It forced me through a process I would not have imagined to 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 overly preoccupied with other matters. 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.
Try this aspiration 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.