Over the last two weeks, we’ve meditated on our emotions, then moved on to what I consider one of the biggest challenges – the venerable practice of lovingkindness.
We don’t live in the kindest society. We compete; we trump each other; we take names, hold grudges, and keep score. Many of us have been raised to do that, to look out for Number One, or to become our “best selves” – a result usually monitored by grades, reps, or some other ordinal indicator.
How different lovingkindness is. To me, the very thought of this concept brings a sense of longing, and with it, a wistful sadness. If only, I think, if only the world were like the one we meditators so nobly strive to summon forth. As I’ve mentioned in my previous blogpost, I grew up as the child of war-torn refugees – survivors of concentration camps. Since the day I first opened my eyes and ears, it has been hard for me to imagine a world of warmth and forbearance, and even harder, perhaps, to imagine sending out nothing but good will to my enemies. Oh yes, the world of my childhood – a world of memories, ashes, and death — had “enemies.” It had “good guys” and “bad guys,” “us” and “them.” I began meditating at 17, and though I found the practice exhilarating, it was often hard to fully relax my emotional self. I would take those deep inhaling, healing breaths that meditation offers as entry to a peaceful mental state. And I would find peace – but only in short oases. Adrenaline raced through me like a starter’s pistol, like salmon spawning. After all, during most of my waking hours, both I and my parents were trying to succeed in the new world, fighting poverty and prejudice to achieve a lasting measure of security.
Decades later, I know now that the best achievement, and the highest level of security, is born of love, of an opening heart. I don’t know how I came to know this, but I do. Maybe it’s meditation, maybe it’s my beautiful family. Maybe the fact that I travel, or maybe it’s because I write. What I write is anything but “poison pen” – no, I adhere to Chekhov’s view that all his characters, flawed as they may be, are lovable. When I write, then, I practice lovingly considering points of view other than (or even opposed to) my own. In the worlds I create, there are no true heroes or villains; there is no “us” and “them.” Everyone is connected through a shared humanity, and my own humor, which somehow ties it all together.
My latest novel, DOWN UNDER, is based on the life of Mel Gibson (who rattled my uber-emotional fight-flight instincts with his anti-Semitic and misogynistic rants). The character based on him first appears as a teen, an abused boy, and his narrative emerges, gradually, as a cautionary tale of what makes good people snap. In writing this person, I’ve written my way towards compassion. To understand is to forgive, and to meditate on lovingkindness is to forgive oneself for small-mindedness and a once frozen perspective. It is to thaw into loving oneself as a flawed mortal, and in doing so, to float beyond those lovely, habitual patterns. Like everyone else, I’m bonded to my weaknesses, which I have long considered strengths. Win an argument with my enemy? I’d love it. Best them in a battle? Bring it on. But that’s not the story of this meditative practice. Abiding in peace is a lot harder than winning. Wishing ease and happiness to a perceived rival is counter-instinctual. It’s going beyond those old, familiar poles of up and down, you and me, win and lose – and arriving in uncharted territory. It’s like writing a book, and everyone’s the protagonist, beloved and accompanied.
Sharon makes spiritual wanderers of us all, with landmarks ahead but the road somewhat lonely at times. And the peaks sometimes do seem impossibly high.
But the bigger the challenge, the greater the wisdom. So whether I come to love Mel Gibson in his manic states, or any other “enemy” who threatens me (or anything I’m attached to), I still travel further than I’ve ever gone. I go out to meet him or her on the other side of my own prejudices. For making me take this journey, I thank not just my teachers, but my erstwhile foes. They bring me to a home – a big, capacious home with an increasingly spectacular view — that can neither waver nor be lost.