Loving-Kindness Through Gritted Teeth
It had been a long day. I was standing in the shower, waiting in vain for the hot water to wash some of the tension out of my back, hands braced against the far was, mumbling a metta meditation under my breath.
“May they be happy. May they be healthy. May they be well. May they be free from suffering. May they be happy. May they be healthy…”
The target of my meditation was a person who’d aggravated me earlier in the day. At the time, I could see that their behavior was driven by the three poisons – attachment, aversion, and ignorance. Suffering begetting suffering. But it was an intellectual recognition. I was tired. I couldn’t summon the empathy or compassion I needed. I’d made the situation worse.
So now, here I was, hours later, in the shower trying to summon the loving-kindness I’d needed to have back then. I realized I was repeating my mantra through gritted teeth. This was never going to work.
I took a deep breath and I remembered how the mantra starts. “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be well. May I be free from suffering.”
My shoulders relaxed, my jaw let go, the frown I’d been carrying in my forehead smoothed out. I had also been suffering. And suffering begets suffering.
I couldn’t extend loving-kindness to someone without having it for myself. The wisdom of thousands of years of Buddhist masters was right on target. I couldn’t start in the middle of the antidote and expect a quick fix to my lack of compassion. I had to start at the beginning; the practice of metta meditation begins (and ends) with oneself.
It’s also a way of taking responsibility. It wasn’t all about the other person; they weren’t the ‘problem.’ I contributed to the suffering. I had to be part of the solution. Nor is it self-indulgent, as some practitioners (particularly western ones) fear. I am as worthy of happiness as anyone else. So are you.
I continued the mantra for myself for several minutes before extending it to the other person. I felt the change in the center of my being. It was a change in how I regarded myself and how I regarded them. I felt a small measure of freedom from suffering. This ensured that I had the generosity of spirit to reach out to them the following day, to make amends and further relieve suffering.
May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be well. May I be free from suffering.
May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be well. May you be free from suffering.
May all beings be happy. May they be healthy. May they be well. May they be free from suffering.