Monday, November 29, 2010

Lovingkindness

When the WWJD? craze struck the nation several years ago, I was too young to appreciate what a good question that is to ask, if one considers what the answer will always be. The New Testament has Jesus out and about doing all kinds of sweet and/or mystical things for people, helping them to know a living, breathing God. Regardless of the story (tax collectors and prostitutes, fish and loaves, etc) the main point is always that Jesus is compassion embodied. What would Jesus do? Love, baby, without limit.


Lately, I've become preoccupied with the term "Christ Consciousness." For those unfamiliar, it is one of many ways people talk about achieving the ultimate level of spiritual development, said to have been reached by people like Gandhi, Mother Teresa and the living, Hugging Saint, Amma. They are proof that it is possible to reach this state of totally boundless, pure love. Take Amma, for instance. A few years ago, a man attempted to assassinate her and was injured in the process. And what did she do? She went to his hospital room and helped nurse him back to health. Aside from my spiritual mentor, Rev. Robert Arpin, Amma is the closest I've come to Christ Consciousness embodied. She has committed to literally embrace the whole world, sometimes hugging people for hours at a time and has never turned anyone away. Simply being in her presence is healing and uplifting. She offers us a divine standard of behavior worth aspiring to.

 

I was in church with my mom and few years ago and the priest gave a really beautiful sermon about inclusiveness with a line I have never forgotten: "All the fish in the sea and the net won't break." What I took from it was that my heart can be like a net that can lovingly hold everyone I encounter. What does this mean? I have to learn to love and embrace everyone. Everyone! Even people who have been unkind to me. Even people who generate feelings of discomfort within me. Because, ultimately, my discomfort speaks volumes about me and who I am, and usually has little to do with the other person. It's my task to work that out, and definitely not up to the people around me to arrange themselves in a way that makes me feel more comfortable. It's up to me to stretch my heart wide enough to hold the whole world. THAT is unconditional love: no borders, boundaries or exceptions.

 

There is a useful tool for cultivating this compassion called "lovingkindness meditation" or Metta Bhavana. Here's what the Buddha had to say about Metta:
"
They may address you in an affectionate way or a harsh way. They may address you in a beneficial way or an unbeneficial way. They may address you with a mind of good-will or with inner hate. In any event, you should train yourselves: Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic to that person’s welfare, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate."

 

You practice Metta by reciting a mantra, first for yourself, then for a good friend, then someone neutral who you have no strong feelings for, then for a "difficult" person who you have conflict with, and finally for the whole world. You move to the next stage whenever you feel filled with lovingkindness for the person in question. There are various versions of the mantra, and I have developed my own over time that feels very complete:
May you be happy and peaceful
May you be healthy and strong
May you be safe and protected
May you be prosperous and abundant
May you live with ease and in graceful celebration of the reality of life



I'm not convinced that it's in the cards for everyone (myself included) to reach this level of being in their lifetime. Sometimes I think it takes several circles around the sun to raise our vibration high enough and clear enough karma to get there. However, it doesn't mean that we cannot sincerely try. Because Jackie DeShannon was right- what the world needs now IS love, sweet love. It's all there is, it's all you need and it's way more fun than hate. So get on out there and make some love today. You know you want to.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gratitude Like Breathing

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. First of all, I love food, and any holiday that centers itself around eating is golden in my book. More importantly, most people take the day to reverently consider what they are grateful for, and that's super yummy to me...even more so than my auntie's apple pie. A few years ago I was teaching a community service learning process seminar, and my students and I spent the week before Thanksgiving cultivating an "attitude of gratitude" by recording our thanks every day in a journal. We all found that we were happier with our lives after having considered how good we had it. I don't journal like this anymore, but I do take time before I fall asleep every night to give thanks for the day and revel in how cool it is to be alive.

It's pretty easy to do this when things are good, but when life gets gnarly it can be harder to be happy. Lately, though, my most important meditation has been to reframe my thinking to allow everything that happens to be a gift and an opportunity. Because I don't really know how events will unfold in the long term, I can't really say what is "good" or "bad." When something comes up that is unpleasant and/or uncomfortable, I can decide to look further into it and find something beneficial. Sometimes I have to get a little creative, but I always manage to find at least a small nugget of joy in the chaos.

When everything becomes a gift and an opportunity, life becomes a lot more fun, celebratory and less scary. Changes are no longer scarfaced, chainsaw wielding monsters waiting to jump out and destroy the order in my life. It's easy to be grateful because I am giving thanks for everything...from the mundane to the blissful to the painful. I am no longer allowing my circumstances to dictate how I feel, or attempting to sculpt them into the outcome I was expecting. This is essentially Buddhist philosophy: suffering comes from attachment to life being different than it is.

Letting go of the outcome and allowing things to be just as they are is a tall order that I have by no means mastered. I love feeling in control, to tinker and attempt manipulation when I'm not pleased. However trying the surrender is, though, I'm always met by relief when I finally just give up. There is something inexpressibly exquisite about laying in tears, heart in two or more pieces, and being able to say thank you...knowing that although it hurts so badly, even this is a gift and an opportunity. And so I begin to understand what it means to breathe gratitude, to vibrate it in every spoken word or thought thought.

Practice unconditional gratitude. Practice seeing the beauty in everything. I guarantee you'll be happier. If not, I promise to return all the money you never gave me.

Empty walls, full heart.

Last Saturday, all these good men in my life (and my lovely Brooke) showed up at my tender little home of four and a half years and helped empty it. My material life went into a small cube that now allegedly lives on Treasure Island, and almost as many things went into paper bags and were released back into the wild.

The reoccurring theme lately has been Let Go. Let go of your dream workplace, let go of your dream apartment, let go of all that stuff you thought was important, let go of all those plans and expectations. Give up, release, let go. This is not an easy process for someone like me, who enjoys the steady and known. My housing situation had become borderline ridiculous, and it still felt like such a loss to leave this place where I had done so much formative living. It would seem I've given up so much and made a lot of space. What am I supposed to fill it all with now? What will take the place of my sweet home, my old microwave and everything else that met a curbside fate?

And then, something delightful happened. I turned out the lights and closed the door for the last time, and I was suddenly able to contain both grief and gratitude. So blessed to have had the warm space that housed dinner parties, movie nights, sweet afternoon naps, amazing house guests, all the ups and downs...and so sad to close this chapter. After the surrender, which initially felt like a tiny death, I ended up feeling so loved and cared for- the empty was replaced by a giddy, heart swelling full. All this space I've made? According to Osho, it's being filled with love...
"Saying yes means surrendering to existence...If one can say 'Yes!' to existence with a total heart, then all is done. Yes means: Thy will be done. In that very surrender, love starts pouring in, love starts overflowing you."

No, Mama, I still don't know what I'm going to do with my life, but neither does anyone else, really. We may think we do, but let's be real...if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Our reality often unfolds in ways we never would've imagined, or do not at all appreciate. I am coming to understand, though, that even when I don't like it, everything is a gift and an opportunity. Initially some things are simply not enjoyable, but stick around long enough and they might transform into something wonderful. Did you and your boyfriend just break up and you're pretty sure you'll never be in love again? Yeah, knock it off. You really don't know what's going to happen. My friend just got hitched to a totally awesome dude who she wouldn't have had the space for in her life if she hadn't let the last dude go. Please, take time to mourn losses- never apologize for the way you feel. Just bear in mind that you're making space right now for something new. Don't forget to open up to it when you're done being sad.

Reality and release are the thing. You can always get a new microwave. Or a new partner. Or a new house. Or a new job. But it's awfully hard to get anything if your hands are clasped tightly around that old thing that isn't even serving you anymore. Let go let go go on.