As I discussed in my last blog entry, this year I am focusing on being nice to people, being kinder and more compassionate to everyone and cultivate Metta (a Pali word for benevolence, friendship, etc often used in Buddhism). When asked by a friend recently why I have decided to spend time practicing being nice to people, I quipped “practicing mindfulness without practicing compassion is like drinking gin without tonic”.
You see, Mindfulness has been wrenched from the Buddhist way of things (some think of Buddhism a religion, others a philosophy, others a psychotherapy. Some – myself include – as all three!) and applied to the field of psychology (and now broader fields) with some promising success (even though, as with all these things, we seem to be having a bit of backlash at the moment). However, Mindfulness, according some Buddhist school of thought, goes hand in hand with the idea of interconnectedness and therefore compassion for other beings. Many metaphors exist to explain this interconnectedness; like we, individually, are waves rising from the same ocean. In the Triratna Buddhist Community (formerly the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order or FWBO) they focus on two meditations – The Mindfulness of Breathing and the ‘Metta Bhavana’, which means ‘to cultivate loving-kindness’. The implication being that if you only cultivate Mindfulness (as is the current trend) without cultivating Compassion you are only getting half the story. Hence my glib remark.
So, in this post I thought I would look more in depth at some specific ways you can practice and cultivate more compassion, or friendliness to everyone.
Metta Bhavana – A Simple Compassion Exercise
Lets start with a formal process of cultivating Metta. This is a classic Buddhist Meditation on loving kindness and is done in six simple stages. You can spend as much time as you want on each, from a minute onwards, depending on your experience with meditation (it is often a good a idea to start with just a simple “Mindfulness of Breath” meditation to build your concentration).
1. Concentrate On Yourself
To begin with just spend a few minutes paying attention to your body, your breath, the thoughts and emotions that arise. Now see yourself as someone that you care for deeply and start wishing yourself happiness as you would wish happiness on that someone you really care for. It may feel weird at first, but just go with it.
2. Call To Mind A Person You Really Like And Care For
Now think of someone you really like. Pay attention to those thoughts and feelings when you think of them and how you care for them and wish them all the best. Concentrate on that feeling for a few moments.
3. Think Of A Neutral Person
Next, think of a neutral person. Someone that you know of but are not friends with it (maybe it is someone who you have a passing connection with on a semi-regular basis – like the person behind the counter at the post office). Bring those feelings of friendliness and wishing the best for them with you as you think of them.
4. Turn Your Attention To A Difficult Person
[NOTE: Do not think of something you actively despise or has really hurt you who you first start doing this exercise, as the negative feelings could be far too overwhelming and you end up just getting upset. Think of someone who mildly irritates you.]
This is the hard stage! Start to think of someone you really do not like. Notice how they make you feel. Notice how you start to think of all the ways they annoy you. Once you start noticing how you are doing it, just bring those feelings of friendship and compassion forward. It may feel like a battle at first, and you may find yourself engaged in a dialogue of “why should I?” and that sort of thing. The secret is not to try and rationalise it, just think of the person the feelings of friendliness. If you find yourself getting tense, take a few moments to relax yourself
5. Concentrate On All Four People
Now concentrate on feeling those feelings of friendliness whilst you think of all four of those people; yourself, someone you are fiends with, a neutral person and someone you don’t like
6. Allow Your “Metta” (Loving Kindness, Friendliness, Compassion, whatever you want to call it) To Spread
Imagine yourself having that feeling towards everyone you meet. Simple
If you just spend a few minutes a day (say one minute on each step) you will notice a really change in the way you think and interact with people. Also, you will notice a change in yourself, you will tend to be calmer, more relaxed and less likely to get all worked up about things. Which is nice.
I always find it interesting that the Metta Bhavana meditation starts with you being compassionate to yourself. It is not about being self centred or arrogant. It is about looking after and caring for yourself as if you are caring for a loved one. Think of someone you care and want the best for. Look after, be gentle, and encourage yourself to do things that are good for you. Allow yourself the occasional and appropriate self indulgence. Care for yourself as you would for someone you love and accept yourself as someone you would a close friend.
It’s easy! Everyone you meet, say something nice about them – “nice shoes”, “nice hair,” whatever.
It will make them feel better and help you to start appreciating the people around you more, as…
…We Are All Interconnected
I was making a cup of tea this morning. A usual, everyday thing we all do (well maybe you do coffee, but it is the same principle) and I was struck by how many people it has taken for me to get that cup of tea. The tea had to be grown, picked, prepared, packaged, transported and sold to me.That must have involved 100’s if not 1000’s of people. Then the milk came from a cow, that had been looked after by a farmer, a vet, someone has built and maintained the milking equipment, again it had to be transports, packaged, sold and so on. The mug was made by someone, even the spoon. All these unknown people have been involved in me being able to carry out a task we all take off granted. How often have you considered how many people it takes for you to the live the life you do? We cannot live our lives on our own. We are reliant on these unknown people (and their own lives). Take a moment with everything you do, to think about, and really appreciate and be grateful of the countless people who have enabled you to do the most simple of daily tasks and be mindful of all of those people as you go about it (where is your tea coming from? A sustainable source that treats its employees well?)
We Should Be Judged By How We Treat People We Don’t Need To Treat Well
Following on from my points above, one of my all time annoyances is when I see arrogant people treating waiting staff in restaurants rudely. These people are there to enable you to have a good meal, treat them with some respect! Sure, you don’t need to treat them well, it probably won’t effect your experience adversely (unless, of course, they pee in your soup) but that does not matter. They are there to help you have a good time. Have some manners, be appreciative and grateful to them. Say “thank you” when they serve you or clear away your plates, ask politely and say “please” if you would like them to get you something. How hard is that (very, by the way I see some people treat waiting staff!).
We are all interconnected. Life is short. Be nice to one another.