Loving-kindness for others

Geranium

I always felt overwhelmed, during my trips to India, by the number of people who were begging in the streets. There were children and old people, some who had a disability and others who were missing limbs. Mothers with tiny infants in their arms, young men with legs grotesquely swollen with elephantiasis, children without legs pushing themselves through the dust by their arms, beggars with missing fingers and noses due to leprosy. There were people who grabbed at you and shouted and followed you down the street for ten minutes, and others who sat patiently by the roadside and folded their hands in thanks when you gave them a coin. Continue reading “Loving-kindness for others” »

Loving-kindness Part 1

Warburton

‘Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.’

Henry James

 

May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I be peaceful

May I live with ease.

 

These simple words of the metta, or loving-kindness meditation, have much to offer us. When we first hear them, we might find them a bit obvious, or a voice in our head might say, ‘that’s all very well and good, but…’ There may be any number of reasons why it might be difficult for us to imagine a life of happiness, health and peace, but this doesn’t mean we cannot wish for it. Continue reading “Loving-kindness Part 1” »

Our internal balance sheet

Sherbrooke forest

‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’

George Orwell, Animal Farm

We all know people who bestride the world with an exaggerated sense of entitlement, as if they’re somehow special and the world owes them something. Others seem to be apologetic for their very existence, anxiously striving to ‘make up’ for the fact they were born and are still around. Whether we have a positive balance sheet (the world owes me, and I’m simply calling in the remuneration I’m entitled to) or a negative one (I guess it’s okay I’m here, as long as I’m conscientious about continually ‘paying off’ my original debt) depends on a complex interaction between the societal values we grew up with, our family environment, our life experiences and personality. Continue reading “Our internal balance sheet” »

Living with ease

Arboretum

‘May I live with ease.’

This is the last line of the loving-kindness (or metta) meditation I often use during meditation classes and retreats. At first the phrase might simply sound pleasant, or even a little self-indulgent. We hear the word ‘ease’, and imagine an easy life. And yes, it does make sense to wish ourselves an easy life. We probably don’t want to go around saying,

‘May I have a tremendously difficult life’ (character-building though that may be).

Yet when I repeat the phrase, ‘may I live with ease’ during meditation, to me it also has another meaning – may I be at ease with my life, regardless of the circumstances. May I be at ease with the inevitable ups and downs of my existence, instead of constantly struggling against ‘what is’. This is not passive, or resigned – in fact, being at ease with our lives involves a very active engagement with reality, as opposed to clinging to some idealised fantasy of how life should be. Being at ease is not the same as ‘anything goes’, ‘she’ll be right’, or the ‘yeah, whatever’ attitude we’ve probably all come across.

A Christian minister who was taking part in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course found himself struggling with the idea of a life at ease. In his tradition, ongoing struggle and obligations were considered very important. It is actually possible to be very busy, work hard, even feel a little stressed, and still be at ease.  When we see sports people give the performance of their lives, there is often an ease about how they move, despite the obvious effort which goes into their achievement. They are not being lazy, but neither are they wasting energy by tensing up their bodies unnecessarily. They expend exactly the right amount of energy, in the muscles which count. Their minds are focused, and they’re not distracted by obsessing about a long list of other things they ‘should’ be doing.

When I play a difficult passage on the piano, I’ve learnt to allow my fingers to soften rather than tense as I make my way through the many notes. It is remarkably effective, and goes against our notion that extra tension = extra effort = better results. In fact the formula should probably look more like this:

Extra attention = less effort = better results

 

Weekly practice idea:

Notice times when you tense more muscles, and expend more energy, than you need to. It could be as simple as gently picking up a cup instead of impatiently grabbing for it.

Anja Tanhane