Old Mississippi 1
Years ago, I remember my teacher telling me it was time for me to do the metta meditation for my Dad’s wife. I flat out told her I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t ready (I actually said, “Swamiji, you’re kidding, right?”). I told her I had never felt this way about anyone; that I was ashamed to say it, but I hated her. We had fallen out over the fact that she refused to let me care for my Dad at my home in the last years of his life. Instead, she sent him to a nursing home and told me he would never see his house, again.
Until he died, I couldn’t be in the same room with her. I knew I would say or do something I would regret. My close friends call me the Princess of Peace so this admission sent shock waves through the kingdom. The first time we occupied the same space at the same time was at my Dad’s memorial service. It was still difficult. He was dead now. When I looked at her the only thing I saw was the face of the woman who had sent my Father to an early grave.
Here I am, the meditation teacher who can’t stand to be in the same room with someone. Woo – hoo - that’s progress on the path! Actually it was. First, for me to admit that I could feel such a thing. After all, I grew up in the house where the mantra was, “Be nice!” At the time, it was skillful means to keep my distance while making the most of the precious time I had left with my Dad. That’s what really mattered.
Despite my protests, my teacher insisted it was time. How could I possibly come to care about this person who had hurt me and my Dad in such a primal way? Out of respect for my teacher, I began to say the phrases – albeit dispassionately at first. Over time – and it did take time – I got to the point where, in the end, I was dropping off groceries to my Dad’s wife and calling to check on her well-being.
The miracle that unfolded in my heart is available to anyone who is willing to stick with the practice under the guidance of a good teacher. Sharon refers to the acronym RAIN: recognize; accept; investigate; and not identify. This RAIN cleansed me of toxic emotions and helped me come to terms with history I couldn’t change. It also kept me and everybody else involved safe.
I remember being in Driver’s Ed. The instructor told us when the car in front of you passes a mile marker, count out loud, Old Mississippi 1, Old Mississippi 2, Old Mississippi 3…all the way up to Old Mississippi 6. When you’re traveling 55 miles an hour on the freeway, that’s how much time/space you need between you and the car in front of you to avoid an accident (about 10 seconds).
Decades later, I continue to count like this – it’s pretty automatic and internal now. I’m grateful for this distance, this spaciousness that keeps me safe by elongating the felt sense between stimulus and response. It helps minimize the human wreckage that can occur in life. This is how we soften karma. This is how we hold our seat in the world. Old Mississippi 1…