Lovingkindness In the Face of Adversity
[00:00:23.400] It’s really been a wonderful experience and the topic I want to talk about now, as many of you know, is loving kindness in times of adversity.
[00:00:33.500] Which reminds me I took a retreat on Maui with Ronda just a few months ago and the title was something like this.
[00:00:41.960] I think it was compassion in the face of adversity, something like that,
[00:00:46.220] and the organizers, all of whom were very old friends of mine would tease me because I gave the title.
[00:00:53.770] Every time something went wrong, like somebody’s plane was late or they had to cancel, they would say, why did you have to mention adversity?
[00:01:02.690] It’s like all your fault that something went wrong.
[00:01:07.100] If we could just turn the other way and pretend it doesn’t exist and use a different word that is milder,
[00:01:15.160] kind of repackaging the concept that nothing would go wrong.
I love that banter between us because I think it actually is kind of typical for the sort of messages that we get from the world around us.
[00:01:29.550] When we’re hurting, when we’re frightened, when things aren’t going so well, when we face difficult circumstance,
[00:01:36.680] there’s often a hidden message that says something like you should have been more in control.
[00:01:43.230] You should have been more on top of things.
[00:01:46.400] If only you really exercise the control, the domination over life, that you’re really capable of, wouldn’t be this problem.
[00:01:56.910] And so, I think a great deal of a spiritual journey actually is stepping back from all of those messages and taking a really fresh look at the nature of our lives,
[00:02:09.250] the nature of happiness, the nature of love.
[00:02:13.390] What is strength? Is it a kind of brittle resistance and resentment or endless seeking of revenge?
[00:02:21.900] Is that actually strong, where is happiness to be found?
[00:02:27.300] What about when we feel so alone and we feel so cut off and so isolated,
[00:02:32.490] we’d be happier to make a connection with one another.
[00:02:38.950] Where is the truth lying? Is love actually kind of weak and foolish? And this is a lot of what my work has been around,
[00:02:47.590] the topic of loving kindness, because I read a book called loving kindness that came out almost 20 years ago now.
[00:02:54.300] My great fear in writing a book was that people would mistake that notion of loving kindness of compassion as something sort of weak and foolish,
[00:03:08.810] a little bit simpering and saccharin.
[00:03:12.070] Whereas, really, I consider those qualities a tremendous force, a tremendous strength in our lives,
[00:03:18.910] and a good deal of my work around the teaching of loving kindness as a method of meditation
[00:03:24.830] is around countering some of those notions that we might have,
[00:03:28.670] people say all of the time I don’t know about developing a more loving heart.
[00:03:34.050] If I were to get more loving, then I would just allow people to hurt me and I would allow people to hurt others or oppress others.
[00:03:43.850] and I wouldn’t take a stand, I wouldn’t be strong.
[00:03:47.480] I had seen an interview many, many years ago in some magazine with Miss Kentucky, a former beauty queen.
[00:03:56.780] Her reign had been like 30 years before, but all these years later she was asked, “what do you have to say about life?”
[00:04:08.380] And she said, “I’m so tired; I’m so tired of smiling.”
[00:04:14.640] And I thought, okay, 30 years of just smiling for the camera? Completely disconnected to whatever her inner state actually was,
[00:04:23.400] just placing this kind of veneer on her experience and that’s what a lot of people think of I find when they hear a term like loving kindness or compassion.
Lovingkindness is actually the literal translation of the word in Pali, the language of the original Buddhist text.
[00:04:42.200] The word is metta, m-e-t-t-a, usually translated as loving kindness; it means friendship and I usually translate it as connection.
[00:04:52.700] I think it means a profound connection to our inner strength
[00:04:57.970] that may not be so apparent to us and to others because we can live as though we were all alone and cut off.
[00:05:10.660] But the truth is that we live in an interconnected universe.
[00:05:15.530] It’s like each of you right now, if you just reflect for a few moments,
[00:05:23.800] who comes to mind as having played some role in your being here right now?
[00:05:37.000] Cause those of you who are here physically, probably were not just driving by and saw these people coming in and thought:
[00:05:47.640] “I think I’ll go in there. We’re here because of conversations we’ve had, somebody, gave us a book, somebody talked about their yoga practice, somebody talked about their meditation practice,
[00:05:59.400] somebody challenged us, somebody helped to wake us up.
[00:06:05.160] So just see who comes to mind.
[00:06:14.000] This moment in time is actually like a confluence of all this connection that brings us here together right now and so is every moment in time.
[00:06:29.000] We actually live in a world that is completely interdependent, interconnected.
[00:06:36.520] It’s not fanciful, it’s not sentimental, it’s not even always very pleasant, but it is. It’s true.
[00:06:45.910] Science teaches us this, economics teaches us this, environmental consciousness teaches us this, even epidemiology teaches us this.
[00:06:54.900] So, what happens over there? It doesn’t nicely stay over there.
[00:06:58.340] It ripples out over here and what we do, where we put our energy, what we care about it matters because it too will ripple out,
[00:07:11.520] but that’s just the nature of life and that really is the spirit of loving kindness.
[00:07:17.270] It doesn’t mean you like everybody. It actually doesn’t even mean you like anybody,
[00:07:23.660] but we know deep, deep down our lives have something to do with one another. We recognize something in one another.
[00:07:33.040] I was once teaching in Washington DC in a school that had been rented because it was the weekend
[00:07:40.420] and this particular school, an elementary school, had its own rules of kindness.
[00:07:46.510] So, these rules of kindness were all over the walls and the corridors.
[00:07:51.480] Whenever we took a break, we would go out and we would just look at the walls because they were so great.
[00:07:58.190] The rules were things like don’t hurt anyone on the inside or on the outside
[00:08:07.490] and my very favourite rule of kindness was “everybody gets to play”.
[00:08:14.380] Everybody gets to play.
[00:08:16.790] It doesn’t mean you like everybody, it doesn’t mean you’re going to take everyone home and be your best friend, but everybody gets to play.
[00:08:25.050] It’s that kind of fundamental sense of respect, that is the spirit of loving kindness.
[00:08:33.050] So traditionally loving kindness is taught with three other qualities. It's talked about in the context of three other qualities as well
[00:08:40.900] and I think that gives us a real sense of how we use it in good times, wonderful times, great times,
[00:08:48.200] difficult times, challenging times and everything in between.
[00:08:54.250] The first quality is loving kindness itself, that sense of connection.
[00:09:00.290] The second quality is compassion,
[00:09:03.200] which is talked about as the trembling or the quivering of the heart in response to seeing pain or suffering. It’s actually a movement of our hearts.
[00:09:12.850] Loving kindness is often said to be based on the recognition or the belief that everybody wants to be happy.
[00:09:19.810] We all actually want to be happy. We want a sense of belonging,
[00:09:24.500] we want a sense of being part of something greater than our limited sense of who we are,
[00:09:29.610] but we get so confused, we get so many messages about where happiness is to be found. So, we’re lost in a way,
[00:09:38.000] but the problem is ignorance.
[00:09:40.290] It’s really not understanding.
[00:09:43.150] It’s not that urge toward happiness, which we all share.
[00:09:46.950] So, in some ways it’s almost like thinking everybody deserves to be happy. Everybody gets to play, right?
[00:09:55.100] And compassion is said to be based on a recognition of just the vulnerability of life.
[00:10:03.360] It’s not that we all have the same measure of suffering because clearly we don’t, but life itself is so fragile, it’s so vulnerable.
[00:10:12.280] We all share kind of insecurity.
[00:10:16.230] So, we don’t look at somebody who’s having a tough time
[00:10:19.830] as though to say, well, I have this perfect life and I’m immune to any problems.
[00:10:26.130] I’m going to bestow this kindness on you way down there
[00:10:30.050] because your life has fallen apart, which mine never could.
[00:10:34.930] But there’s more of that kind of equality, like “oh, life is so changeable”, for any one of us.
[00:10:42.560] We could pick up our cell phones and call into our messages and by the time we hang up that phone, we have a different life than the one we had before.
[00:10:53.150] So, there’s a movement, there’s a kind of tenderness of our hearts as we look at our own pain or difficulty and as we look at the difficulty of others.
[00:11:04.580] Then, there is a third quality, which is called sympathetic joy,
[00:11:10.380] which means joy and the happiness of others.
[00:11:14.900] If compassion teaches us a better way to look at our own pain and pain of others,
[00:11:20.140] sympathetic joy, or joy of the happiness of others teaches us a better way to look at joy.
[00:11:26.570] So, sympathetic joy actually means not falling sway to the voice
[00:11:32.950] that so often arises when we witnessed someone’s success or good fortune,
[00:11:40.050] that voice that says “oh, I wish you had a little bit less going for you right now”,
[00:11:45.800] like you don’t have to lose everything, but if the light could just dim a bit, I’d feel happier.
[00:11:54.000] Instead, we actually can rejoice in the happiness of others; we don’t feel threatened when we feel something’s been taken away from us or stolen from us,
[00:12:04.500] and in order to really enhance that sense of caring, of delight in someone else’s joy.
[00:12:13.300] First of all, we need to have some sense of
[00:12:18.610] sufficiency or even abundance. If we fall into, I have nothing, and you have everything.
[00:12:28.300] It's going to be very hard
[00:12:31.420] to feel this kind of joy for someone else.
[00:12:35.870] So, we need to pay some attention to what we do have, we need to practice gratitude
[00:12:42.640] to realize we may not have everything we want, but at the very least we’re breathing,
[00:12:48.520] We have capacity for growth, for change.
[00:12:55.150] We need to realize happiness is actually not a limited commodity in this world,
[00:13:00.870] and the more someone else has, the less there’s going to be for me,
[00:13:06.410] and remove ourselves from that way of thinking
[00:13:11.170] and challenge some of those assumptions about aloneness, about happiness.
[00:13:19.220] The fourth quality after loving kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy, which is really key
[00:13:25.520] to the kind of broadening of loving kindness in all of them through all kinds of different circumstances,
[00:13:33.610] is this quality called equanimity, which means balance. It’s the kind of balance that’s born of wisdom.
[00:13:43.700] Wisdom tells us what we can do and what we cannot do.
[00:13:49.000] Wisdom actually gives us some healthy kind of boundaries.
[00:13:54.450] Wisdom gives us patience.
[00:13:58.050] Maybe someone is not going to heal on our timetable.
[00:14:04.390] Things won’t change according to our demand.
[00:14:07.720] It doesn’t mean we do nothing, it means we do everything that we can and we need to have a kind of letting go also
[00:14:16.500] because ultimately this is not our universe to control.
[00:14:23.740] I often had like too bad, you know, but it’s so.
[00:14:29.250] We try and we work and we help and we care and we love and
[00:14:35.500] that all needs to be in a perspective of wisdom, or we burn out, we’re frustrated.
[00:14:41.250] We feel helpless, we cannot bear feeling helpless.
[00:14:45.760] We turn away.
[00:14:49.820] We feel powerless, we resent that, we resent others.
[00:14:54.730] We decide compassion, it’s too exhausting.
[00:14:59.730] We need equanimity because we need the texture, the flavour, the permeating of wisdom throughout everything.
[00:15:10.405] Wisdom tells us I will care and I will try and since I’m not in control in the end,
[00:15:19.420] I cannot make it, so it’s not my fault
[00:15:24.050] or life is full of ups and downs. The way they put it in the Buddhist tradition is
[00:15:30.060] there’s pleasure and pain and gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disrepute.
[00:15:37.230] These are called the eight vicissitudes.
[00:15:40.230] These are not unnatural, these are not weird.
[00:15:44.550] It’s just the nature of things.
[00:15:46.780] So those people think, well, you know, if I get really good at a spiritual pursuit, it’ll all kind of flatten out.
[00:15:53.850] There won’t be any more highs, but that’s okay because there won’t be any more lows.
[00:15:58.580] It’ll just be this kind of grey amorphous blob that my life will turn into.
[00:16:04.050] Some people actually do long for that and other people dread it, but it never happens anyway.
[00:16:10.720] So, it kind of doesn’t matter how you feel about it.
[00:16:14.350] That’s not what a spiritual journey is about.
We experience everything because life has everything and we can be different with it.
[00:16:25.740] Instead of going up and then clinging and holding on and
[00:16:31.000] craving and thinking “oh, you know, I’ve got to make this last forever”.
[00:16:36.170] We can enjoy it and be free
[00:16:39.630] and instead of going down and having challenged difficulty, adversity, and adding shame and guilt
[00:16:49.600] and bitterness and anger and fear, we can have compassion
[00:16:55.250] for ourselves and others as things are difficult
[00:16:59.100] and all those places in between that aren’t so great and they aren’t so hard.
[00:17:05.300] The neutral, ordinary, repetitive routine sort of experiences that we have every day;
[00:17:12.530] those are the times we usually go to sleep and we kind of numb out and we disconnect,
[00:17:17.750] but we can be really connected to ourselves into one another,
[00:17:21.460] even in that neutral space, we discover we could be different with everything and everybody.
[00:17:30.700] We have to understand that life is full of pleasure and pain and gain and loss
[00:17:36.100] and praise and blame and fame and disrepute for everybody.
[00:17:42.200] Some years ago, I was walking. We were hiking, these friends and I,
[00:17:47.530] in California and we decided we were going to go into this State Park
[00:17:51.950] along a certain trail for three days. And then on the fourth day, we were going to turn around
[00:17:57.410] and come back out on the very same trail.
[00:18:02.020] So this was still the third day when we were walking in
[00:18:04.950] and it turned out to be a day of many, many hours of really constant, steady unremitting, downhill walking,
[00:18:15.310] and at one point, this friend I was with and I,
[00:18:18.350] it’s like we were struck by the simultaneous realization and we both just stopped.
[00:18:24.190] We looked at each other and he said to me
[00:18:26.900] “in a dualistic universe, downhill can only mean one thing”
[00:18:32.000] and sure enough the next day,
[00:18:34.240] when we turned around to come back out, it was many, many, many hours, a very constant uphill walking.
[00:18:43.100] So I’m not positing that every level of the universe is dualistic,
[00:18:47.800] but on the level in which we feel pleasure and pain and so on,
[00:18:52.680] we feel both it’s like that
[00:18:555.760] and so, we can have equanimity, which doesn’t mean kind of solidness
[00:18:59.120] or indifference. It means peace.
[00:19:02.820] We can be at peace with the way things are
[00:19:06.020] and that will tremendously strengthen our lovingkindness,
[00:19:10.030] it will tremendously strengthen our compassion,
[00:19:12.990] it will tremendously strengthen our sympathetic joy
[00:19:16.790] and we take those qualities with us wherever we go,
[00:19:21.360] as we go up and as we go down, and then maybe the last thing I’ll say before we actually practiced together
[00:19:29.050] is that these are really seen as a practice.
Sometimes I find in the West, that is considered a little bit strange
[00:19:39.800] if you say I’m cultivating loving kindness, I’m strengthening compassion, I’m training compassion,
[00:19:47.610] that can sound really kind of cold and mechanistic, like that’s a little odd,
[00:19:54.740] in Eastern psychology or in Buddhist psychology, absolutely it’s believed, these things can be trained,
[00:20:01.950] not in a cold and weird sense, but
[00:20:05.500] because they are based in awareness and we know awareness can be trained,
[00:20:10.600] how we pay attention can be trained.
[00:20:13.630] If you’re the kind of person, for example, who at the end of the day,
[00:20:18.220] you look back at your day almost as though to evaluate yourself, like “how did I do today?”
[00:20:24.020] And let’s say, you’re the kind of person who pretty well only remembers the mistakes you made and the things you did wrong
[00:20:30.440] and what you didn’t like about yourself,
[00:20:32.230] let’s just say.
[00:20:34.600] So much so that your whole sense of who you are and all that you will ever be just collapses
[00:20:39.740] around that really stupid thing you said at lunch at the meeting.
[00:20:44.320] We need to open beyond that, right? I mean, all that may be true, but that’s not the only truth.
[00:20:50.840] What went right today? What’s the good within me?
[00:20:53.590] What’s the good that came toward me?
[00:20:58.260] So, what do we pay attention to?
[00:21:00.930] Can it be bigger and more inclusive than
[00:21:05.100] what it usually is?
[00:21:07.140] And who do we pay attention to? Who doesn’t get to play? Who doesn’t count?
[00:21:12.780] Who do we look right through instead of look at? Who do we ignore?
[00:21:18.950] Who do we discount or disregard?
[00:21:21.120] And what happens if we include them rather than look right through them?
[00:21:26.450] That’s a practice, it’s a practice of awareness.
[00:21:33.420] How fragmented are we in our awareness?
[00:21:37.680] If you’re having a conversation with somebody,
[00:21:40.010] are you actually really listening,
[00:21:44.220] or are you thinking about the fifty emails you need to write?
[00:21:47.890] And what’s going to happen if my plane is late
[00:21:51.450] and all of that?
[00:21:53.250] So, can we get there
[00:21:55.230] and actually be really present in a whole hearted way
[00:22:00.000] if we look at who we pay attention to?
[00:22:02.800] How we pay attention? What we pay attention to?
[00:22:05.990] And we continue to grow and expand in those realms,
[00:22:09.910] what will come almost as emergent properties, like you’re growing a garden and you’ve planted the seeds.
[00:22:15.210] What will come alive are qualities like
[00:22:20.930] lovingkindness and compassion and sympathetic joy and equanimity.
[00:22:25.300] So absolutely these things can be considered a kind of practice.