Friday, August 8, 2014

Release your heart

Today is a full moon. I could tell even before I checked the calendar, based on the phone calls that came in to the newspaper where I work. That's not unusual -- the callers range from those with tomatoes that resemble Richard Nixon to ones who tell you they're wearing tinfoil on their heads while they talk on the phone about conspiracies.

Friday's calls had a different quality than the usual lunacy, though. The callers wanted to tell me about kindnesses they'd experienced. And they simply wanted to share their gratitude and joy -- they didn't even launch into the usual rant about how we only report bad news and how about writing something good for a change.

One was a big deal: A woman was lying on a downtown sidewalk in May, and another woman stopped to check on her, then called 9-1-1, saving her life. The woman didn't remember any details but wanted to thank her unknown helper. She couldn't write a letter to the editor because, she said, she had a stroke and "all I can do is talk."

Another caller praised a newspaper customer service worker, who had driven to her disabled brother's home to hand him a newspaper after a delivery snafu. Getting the newspaper is the highlight of his day, she said (giving me a highlight for my day), and getting a special delivery gave him great joy.

The calls reminded me of the importance of developing an attitude of kindness, seeing the small ways that the world supports us rather than focusing on the insults.

The magic of metta practice is not that it makes us more loving toward the person we love or tolerant of the annoying person. It is that it turns our mind. We begin to see everything with the wide eyes of compassion rather than the narrowed eyes of judgment.

The Buddha identified 11 benefits of lovingkindness (speaking to monks, so Buddha says "he"):

1. "He sleeps in comfort. 2. He awakes in comfort. 3. He sees no evil dreams. 4. He is dear to human beings. 5. He is dear to non-human beings. 6. Devas (gods) protect him. 7. Fire, poison, and sword cannot touch him. 8. His mind can concentrate quickly. 9. His countenance is serene. 10. He dies without being confused in mind. 11. If he fails to attain arahantship (the highest sanctity) here and now, he will be reborn in the brahma-world.
These advantages "are to be expected from the release of heart." What a beautiful phrase. If you released your heart from its constrictions, from its limits, from its cages, where would it go?

What if you looked for the kindness in the world instead of the meanness? What if you realized the ground-floor gratitude of being able to take in breath? How would that change your life?

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