Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Transforming a "Bad" Day with Loving Kindness Meditation


I was so excited for my toddler as he peddled "super fast" down the driveway. It has taken months, but he finally mastered riding his tricycle by himself. We laughed and chased his neighborhood friends until we encountered another neighbor - one who apparently does not like kids. I smiled when I first saw her. She responded with a stone cold face and then yelled at us for riding our bikes on the common town home driveway.  She told us this was against the Homeowner Association rules and then proceeded to seethe as she stormed back and forth with her garbage (trailing packing popcorn, which I couldn't help but point out to her.)

It felt so horrible to be yelled at in front of my child.  This altercation came out of nowhere and I was left with a knot in my stomach. I thought about it several hours afterwards. Were my thoughts affecting the way I was interacting with my son?  Probably. He was very emotional the rest of the day, but did not talk about the neighbor at all.  He seemed to forget the event completely.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that I was so flustered after this argument that I accidentally locked my son & I out of the house.  Yes, this was a very bad day. Luckily for us I had my phone handy and my husband was able to come home quickly to let us back in. 

Now, I'm not really interested in sharing my defense or talking badly about this woman.  Neither are productive and do nothing to help one feel better.  If anything, these actions produce an even greater feeling of separation or superiority in relation to the other person.  How do we forgive without needing to forget?  And how do we move on from uncomfortable encounters like this without obsessing about the details, assuming a victim mentality, and/or holding a grudge against the person who offended us? Life has given me plenty of opportunities to figure this out.  Loving kindness (Metta) meditation has consistently helped me transform a really bad day into one that is pleasant or at least insightful.  Basically, it is a meditation that helps us forgive by realizing that we all deserve to be happy on this Earth. Once my son was asleep for the night, I sat alone with a candle and began. 

~~~~~

Loving Kindness Meditaition

1. Bring your body into a comfortable, alert seated posture. If sitting in a chair, it's always advisable to sit near the end with your feet firmly planted on the floor so that you're still using your postural muscles to support your spine (not relying on the back of the chair).

2. Take a few deep breaths to bring your mind down into your body and fully present in the moment. 

3.  Repeat the verses below, or something similar if you wish to change it up. These are well wishes for all sentient beings. I will elaborate on their meaning after these instructions. 

May you be free from fear and harm
May you be happy as you are
May you be at peace with whatever comes

4.  First you will be directing these wishes toward yourself. For me, it helps to hold in my mind an image of myself when I was very young. We usually have an easier time forgiving children since they are so innocent. Forgiving and wishing yourself the very best is the most important step in this meditation. Take as much time as you need here and repeat these lines until you feel that you really mean it. You deserve happiness. 

5.  Then bring to mind someone you love dearly. Again, repeat these phrases until it feels authentic.

6. Next, bring to mind someone neutral. It may be someone you have seen often but don't really know. Perhaps someone working at your local supermarket. 

7. And finally, think about the person who you are having difficulty relating to.  Can you direct these well wishes to this person?  It helps me to imagine this person as an innocent child (again, as I do myself) or at least to acknowledge that even though this person's history is unknown, we may have more in common that we think.

May you be free from fear and harm
We can become paralyzed by fear to the point that our lives are very limited, not fully lived.  Holding onto this fear is unhealthy and can actually create energetic disturbances in the body that can lead to physical and mental disease. By wishing for freedom from fear and harm we are trying to let go of fearful beliefs and negativity. Underneath it all is wide-open awareness and a state of equanimity. 

May you be happy as you are
I think this can be interpreted in many ways.  Those of us practicing mindful meditation believe that we ARE wide-open awareness and equanimity is our natural state. By peeling off layers of fear and any other contrived emotional walls we reveal our authentic nature. It is possible for us all to attain, if we practice awareness and can clearly see how certain beliefs are making us feel separate from others. This does not mean that we should adhere to rigid belief systems and never apologize for our behavior.   We must still learn from mistakes and change accordingly, and yield in certain relationships in order to live harmoniously with others. So, this mantra is more about realizing that you are essentially happy, in a state of equanimity, when we drop all our life stories and instead drop into awareness. 

May you be at peace with whatever comes
We can trust in the universe, revel in the mystery, and know that everything happens for a reason. 

~~~~~

After completing this meditation I was able to sleep peacefully.  Now when I think of my child-hating neighbor, I do not feel the same anger and dread.  Instead, I feel sad that she is not able to see the beauty that is in all children, but I respect her need for privacy.  No, I don't think I will be inviting her over for dinner, but we will walk quietly as we pass her home and will ride our bikes elsewhere since there is plenty of space after all.  There is plenty of space for all of us if we are wide open and compassionate inside.