Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What's discipline got to do with it?

I hate Dallas. I hate Dallas with a fiery hate equal to the temperature on this August afternoon outside the terminal at Love Field where I'm waiting for an airport-to-hotel shuttle.

I hate Dallas. That's a broad statement, but it's the kind of thing I tend to say, consigning an entire city or category of things to the trash bin of "unpleasant experience." Tofu. Humidity. Feta cheese.

And I don't mean it. It's what Tsoknyi Rinpoche calls "real, but not true." If I look closely at the causes and conditions that give rise to the thought "I hate Dallas," what is there is not a concrete lump of hate for a whole city but discomfort with being hot, hungry, unsure of what will happen next.



The groundlessness of being in a space that's neither here nor there.

I want to be back at the retreat center I left a few hours earlier. I want to be home with my spouse. I just don't want to be in a 16-hour layover at Dallas-Forth Worth airport, waiting for a shuttle.

I'd been reading Tsoknyi Rinpoche's "Open Heart Open Mind" on the plane that brought me to Dallas, and I'd just read a section on how to work with difficult people. Rinpoche's one-word prescription: Discipline.

It takes discipline, one of the paramitas -- or perfections of the heart -- to stay with the difficult feelings, to accept that they are your feelings, and to see them as the impermanent, ephemeral things they are instead of treating them like a slab of marble, carving a statue, and writing a story that's engraved on a plaque to justify the whole thing.

I don't hate Dallas. I dislike how I feel at the moment, when I happen to be in Dallas.

When I see that, I see space around my feelings, space in which I know everything will be OK. The shuttle will come or I'll walk upstairs and get a cab. The hotel will be air-conditioned. I'll find food.

It's a similar process in working with a difficult person in metta meditation. When you tease out your feelings about this person, about their behavior, from the human being, you can see that they are just  getting through the day. It becomes easier to send lovingkindness -- the wish that they will be safe, happy, healthy, and live with ease -- when you see them as human rather than a monument to their irritating qualities. You don't have to like them or what they do, just see their humanity. Address yourself to their humanity, not their irritating qualities. You may find those qualities become less important and less irritating.

And then you can rest in that space, finding comfort wherever you are.

Friday, August 7, 2015

I love you anyway

Very early tomorrow I will be getting on a plane and heading off to a fairly remote retreat center in Colorado. Very early. The first flight leaves at 5 a.m., which means leaving the house around 2:30 a.m. to allow for check-in and security and all that.

I made the arrangements a while back. Lots of life has happened since then and I forgot what I'd booked. When I looked up my travel arrangements this week, my immediate reaction was, "What fool booked these flights?" Of course, it was me. And of course there were reasons -- cost, check-in time, etc.

At those moments, when my first reaction is to speak harshly to myself, I am reminded of a story Sharon Salzberg tells in "Lovingkindess." She'd been practicing metta meditation for a while but wasn't sure it was having an effect. Then one day she broke a glass and heard the automatic voice of her self talk, "You're such a klutz." And then the voice of metta spoke up: "And I love you."

Practicing metta meditation doesn't run you into a bowl of mush. It doesn't necessarily stop the voices of habit in your head. It does add the coda: "And I love you." Yeah, sometimes you make bad decisions, sometimes you don't pay attention, sometimes you mess up. And I love you.

You come to believe that you are loveable. And if you are loveable, even with your annoying habits, others are too.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Meeting meanness with metta

I don't have to tell you that the world is a mean place. You know that -- you're on the Internet, which some days seems like nothing more than a place to share hatred and rage and stories of the awful way people treat other beings. It can feel overwhelming.
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What can you do when faced with a tide of aggression and ignorance?

Practice lovingkindness.

Lovingkindness -- often known by its Pali word, metta -- is a quality of friendliness, "a steady, unconditional sense of connection that touches all beings, without exception, including ourselves," according to Sharon Salzberg, a Buddhist teacher who literally wrote the book on loving-kindness 20 years ago.

I love that her book calls lovingkindness "the revolutionary art of happiness." Kindness, it seems, is directed outward, toward others. We do kind things for other beings. And yet we reap the benefits.

In lovingkindness meditation, we make the aspiration that several categories of beings (ourselves, a mentor, a loved one, a neutral person, a difficult person, a group, and all beings) experience happiness, health, freedom, and ease. We don't necessarily take action, just make the aspiration.

But thought is precursor to action. As the Buddha said, "With our thoughts we make the world." So if we see the world as filled with hate and aggression that threatens us, we react defensively. If we aspire to keep people a safe distance away from us, we don't create the connections we innately crave and need to have in order to thrive.

If we practice sending out kind thoughts in meditation, we begin to send out kind thoughts outside of meditation.

Last month I was coming home from a meditation retreat in Colorado, and I met the nicest people all along my two-airplane, multihour trip -- from the shuttle bus driver who talked about the herds of rabbits that live along the airport access road in Albuquerque to the woman who commented on my giant cinnamon bun to the other people squeezed into the second-to-last row of the plane (who spread out once we realized no one had been condemned to sit in the last row).

Did I have extraordinary luck in the people I encountered that day? Nope. But I had spent a week cultivating kind intention, so I didn't take offense when a stranger remarked on unhealthy snack. I didn't write off the talkative man as a distracting loudmouth. I experienced it less defensively, as people looking to connect with other people in their own ways.

It's not always easy to maintain that view outside of retreat when you're actively working on that. But it is possible to make time to work on that. August is Metta Month at the Interdependence Project; there are many opportunities to practice together in real life and online.

Besides, metta meditation can be practiced steathily. On my way to retreat, I sat outside a Starbucks at Love Field in Dallas, silently wishing happiness and ease to the stressed-out passengers going by me. I don't expect it did anything for them, except put one less cranky person in their path, but it made my trip more pleasant. Try it.