the bridge I’m not ready to cross. #MeditationThoughtMondays

compassion the link

The ground is beginning to thaw out.  On my neighborhood walks I discover purple crocus sneaking through piles of dead leaves and green shoots of daffodils braving the awakened spring. Nothing delights me more. I turn into a helpless Instagram fanatic, stomach prone to dirty sidewalk, grinning as I capture the perfect angle. It’s not original: everyone takes pictures of spring flowers; but it sure warms my heart.

flowers ins

I’m also working on warming my heart toward a few key people that I have a grudge against. That’s right, I have been holding a grudge against a certain person for five months. I mean, literally, all winter long, my heart was frozen with bitterness. Like any good self-respecting yogi, I’d meditate on my anger and hold my anger tenderly like a sleeping baby, and totally heal this anger… until I saw this person again. I mean, how long does it take to ‘get over’ one minor indiscretion?  This person wasn’t even a close friend!  The primary concern was that I felt wronged by him.  His actions left me feeling disrespected and unworthy. They shook my fundamental belief in myself, my trust in my judgment, and my confidence in being an excellent teacher. And, let’s be honest… this kid probably didn’t mean to trigger my deepest insecurities!  But all winter long on, little icy pellets of anger lodged, frozen in my heart.

I’d gotten adept at using my sitting meditation practice to attend to my anger, to cool it with time and with breath, and was working on adding forgiveness into the mix.  I always, always felt better after this meditation: lighter, sunnier, more joyful, ready to love myself.  But I still wasn’t ready to love this person.  Not even in the slightest: he could sit in a frozen cave in the Himalayans wearing only a t-shirt for the rest of his life, for all I cared. (For those of you who don’t know how much I loathe the cold, this is like my ultimate nightmare. That, and being late to a friend’s wedding. I truly hate being late.)

Anyway, one morning I was reading Mindfulness in Action by Chögyam Trungpa, and I realized that, despite my Herculean meditation efforts, I was missing the point. He writes: “Compassion is the link between meditation and everyday life.”      

compassion the link

Here I was, stuck on one side of an icy, crashing current and on the opposite bank the sun was shining and the soil was thawing in its warmth.  And compassion?  The bridge I wasn’t ready to cross.

In his newest book (compiled posthumously by Carolyn Rose Gimian) meditation master Chögyam Trungpa explains that the real meaning of compassion is fundamental warmth.  He writes:

“We have a tendency, which almost feels automatic, to freeze up, to keep things frozen within ourselves.  [However] when we begin to experience fundamental warmth in our practice of meditation, that generous attitude and experience invites us to relate more openly with people.  We begin to thaw out.”

So, I had this sitting practice during which I experienced relief, ease of spirit, spontaneous joy, total and complete contentment… like being holed up in a tiny mountain cabin next to a fire (yes, please!).  And then I’d go back into the real world and still felt like my heart was frozen a little bit, because I’d not been thoroughly warmed by compassion. Compassion, it turns out, is the bridge between meditation and meditation in action.

One way I found to cultivate compassion is to adapt the popular Lovingkindness Meditation (also known as Metta Meditation) to help me cross the bridge.

This technique uses a simple formulaic verse:

“May _________ be happy.

May __________ be healthy and strong.

May __________ be safe and protected.

May __________be free of pain and suffering.

May __________be able to live in this world with serenity and ease.”

First, you extend the above prayer to yourself, because compassion and warmth must first germinate in your own heart, before they can be genuinely extended to others.

Then, you extend this same prayer to someone you love.  (Easy. I love a lot of people.)

Then, you extend this same prayer to a casual friend, someone who is an acquaintance. (Easy, I assume the best of strangers and definitely extend love to them.)

Then, you extend the same prayer to someone about whom you feel neutral. (Easy, again, I live in a city and I see many new faces every day.)

Then, here’s the kicker: you extend the same prayer to someone who has hurt you. (UGH!  Ice pick to the heart!)

Then, you hold the image of these five people in your mind’s eye and envelop all of them in the sunshine and warmth of compassion.  You close the prayer by extending loving-kindness to all sentient beings.

Here’s your Meditation Challenge:

Practice Loving-kindess Meditation daily for 14 days.  Be cognizant of your daily experience of compassion and warmth. Notice how your heart begins to thaw out after a few days.

Begin with 5 minutes of deep, calm breathing.  Then, say aloud the following prayer:

“May _________ be happy.

May __________ be healthy and strong.

May __________ be safe and protected.

May __________be free of pain and suffering.

May __________be able to live in this world with serenity and ease.”

Each time you repeat the prayer, fill in the blank:

  1. Yourself
  2. Someone whom you are very fond of (family member or intimate partner)
  3. Casual friend or acquaintance
  4. A person about whom you feel neutral
  5. Someone who has hurt you

Lastly, envelop all five people in the warmth of compassion.  Extend love to embrace all sentient beings by saying aloud: “May all sentient beings be happy and free from suffering.”

April Showers 027

Use compassion to cross the bridge… sunshine awaits.

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