The cultivation of metta, sometimes translated as boundless friendliness or loving kindness, has proven to be a beneficial meditation practice over the centuries, but it can present a challenge for modern Westerners. The standard version of metta practice asks one to begin by expressing positive wishes for one’s own benefit, e.g., ‘may I be happy, may I be healthy, etc.’, before extending these wishes to others. The difficulty for many of us appears right at the start. Should I really be wishing myself happiness, good health, and so on? Well-known meditation teacher and author, Jack Kornfield, has a solution. He says, “We open our heart in the most natural way, then direct our loving-kindness little by little to the areas where it’s more difficult.” Sending good wishes to ourselves may not feel completely natural so we don’t have to start there. You can find all of his instructions at How to Do Metta (Lion’s Roar, 11 August 2015).
In honor of Father’s Day I am reposting a portion of Norman Fischer‘s excellent advice piece “Life is Tough: Six Ways to Deal With It” (Lion’s Roar, 15 June 2016)
Turn All Mishaps Into the Path
‘Turn all mishaps into the path,’ sounds at first blush completely impossible. How would you do that? …
We do that by practicing patience, my all-time favorite spiritual quality. Patience is the capacity to welcome difficulty when it comes, with a spirit of strength, endurance, forbearance, and dignity rather than fear, anxiety, and avoidance. None of us likes to be oppressed or defeated, yet if we can endure oppression and defeat with strength, without whining, we are ennobled by it. Patience makes this possible.
I’ve written from time to time about the benefits of meditation, and also contrarily about the uselessness of meditation. Against the view that ‘meditation delivers benefits X and Y’ is the view that ‘meditation is simply the experience of life, being in the moment’. The latter does not mean stopping to think, “this meditation will put me in the moment,” but just sitting and being open to whatever the moment (life) happens to be. The latter is true zen.
Here is a beautiful zen story that illustrates the mysterious adventure of ‘just sitting’ without any ideas of gaining or losing.
If today’s meditation session is like most, a small group, less than a handful really, will join me in the chapel to sit quietly for part of the noon hour. The Reed chapel is a chapel in name only, but the soaring ceilings, the tall windows on both sides of the room, provide an atmosphere that is light, spacious, airy, and contemplative. I’m sure more people would come, enjoy a few moments of beauty and quiet, if only they could find the time.
Thoughts like these remind me of a joyous, deceptively simple poem by Nanao Sakaki called Happy Lucky Idiot (Tricycle, Summer 2013). It leads the reader through a series of reflections, “If you have time to X, Do Y, If you have time to Y, Do Z”. It concludes:
If you have time to dance
Sit quietly, you Happy Lucky Idiot
I can never help laughing, shaking my head in disbelief, at Danae (Non Sequitur, 16 May 2016). Her rage at the unbending world is so pure. Her commitment to 24/7 warfare is so unquenchable. What a child.
Of course, I have more than a little Danae in me – that’s what makes her so familiar and so funny. I want the world to go my way. And, like Danae, rather than accept things as they are, I’ll retreat into a fantasy land where I can try to hide from the world’s problems.
It isn’t unusual for meditators to seek out silence as a hiding place. How many times have I evaluated a meditation session and said, ‘it didn’t work for me’? But how could it ever be broken? Does reality ever fail to happen? Like it or not, this is my life.
Douglas Penick writes, “the path of enlightenment is not the path to enlightenment” (“What Are You Meditating For?” Tricycle, Fall 2013). There are many ways one might critique a meditation period (“I was hot, noisy, distracted, sleepy, …”), but “it brought me closer to being enlightened” isn’t one of them.
Meditation traditions (zen, for example) often encourage meditation without any thought of personal gain. However, this has not prevented researchers from looking for possible benefits (and harms) that meditation might bring about. Stress, focus, attention management have all been investigated, and now researchers are looking into academic performance.
con·tem·plate – verb, “look thoughtfully for a long time at”
It might seem like contemplation has a natural role to play in education. Learning anything new would seem to involve looking, being thoughtful, investing time. But nothing can raise student (and faculty and administrator) highbrows faster, or higher, than suggesting that classroom time be given over to silent contemplation. So a recent Washington Post story (To get students to focus, some professors are asking them to close their eyes, Washington Post, A. Reiner, 7 Apr 2016) about Bryn Mawr physical chemistry professor, Michelle Francl, and her use of silent contemplation to lead students through some of the mathematical mysteries of quantum mechanics got me thinking … so much of organic chemistry is visual. What might my students gain if I paused over a complicated structural formula and said a la Francl, “We’re going to take a minute and a half and just look at it”?
We will continue meeting on Thursdays in April, but May will be a month of transition with a mix of Thursday meetings early in the month giving way to Tuesday meetings later in the month. The last Thursday meeting will be May 12, and the first Tuesday meeting will be May 10 (note: this is Finals week so it seemed like two meetings might be a good idea!).
June, July, and August meetings will all fall on Tuesdays except when I’m traveling (a common summer occurrence). A complete list of meeting dates can be found on Our Schedule. If you use Google calendar, ask me to share the Reed Meditation calendar with you.