Real Happiness at Work: Day 17 Lovingkindness and Compassion–Caulking and the Olympics

Training, training, training! How do you get to Sochi? A lot of training and a little bit of serendipity, it seems. How do I get to lovingkindness? How do I get to an open heart? How do I seal up that bathtub? A remarkably similar recipe, it seems.

This week I've been watching the Winter Olympics, on and off. I love the snowboarding and skiing, I like the hockey. The ice dancing feels absurd to me; it's as if the Bolshoi faced off against the New York City Ballet every four years in front of a panel of critics. Or Kinky Boots vs. After Midnight. Yet I understand the ice dancers are superbly fit, are greatly skilled, and perform demanding physical feats with grace and style.

In any case, the inevitable background stories on the athletes seem to stress either dedicated perseverance or a wild chance that brought them there. Mainly the former, but occasionally the latter comes into play, especially when an athlete makes the Olympic team contrary to expectation. Of course, it is a little bit of both.

After years of practice, there's that one moment when one must perform, on the dot, on the spot, amid all the myriad causes and conditions of snow and noise and equipment and temperature and interior conditions that combine to create a single performance, an event that takes place just once, there, then, and never again. Perhaps that is the performance that earns someone a spot on the team, or eventually on the podium; perhaps it is a "make or break" moment. Wisdom is necessary, to discern that point and when lovingkindness and compassion mean doing one's utmost at that moment, and when it means letting go and letting a little serendipity happen. Possibly both at the same time.

It reminds me of practice on the cushion and practice at work. I've practiced metta with Sharon's direction at a weekend retreat at the Interdependence Project, and with other teachers as well. For weeks at a stretch, I have practiced a focused, progressive lovingkindness meditation described in Sharon's books, every morning for 5 or 10 minutes.

And when something comes up at work that asks an open heart, that is a real space where lovingkindness and compassion can manifest, it is that practice that allows it to happen. And some serendipity as well. I've had phone calls come in, ones I've been waiting for, to connect with someone–and missed the call. Situations have arisen where a few people need to be in a room together at the same time–and traffic, and snow, and subways have not worked to bring them together. I've brought compassion into a situation unskillfully, where the participants take it as an affront, or as an attack.

But where there's space to practice amid a situation, it is the practice done previously that allows it to happen. We are creatures of habit and pattern; why not replace the pattern of aggressive speed with a pattern of nonaggressive spaciousness? 

So what about that caulking in the title? Well, the growing nonaggressive spaciousness between the tiles in the bathroom apparently had the potential to let in a little too much air and water energy. So I decided to fill it with some caulk. But squeezing that caulk gun was a lot harder than I thought it would be! I go to the gym, I train my biceps and triceps and so on, but I did not train that hand-squeezing forearm muscle. When I needed it, it wasn't there. Ouch.

Behaving with lovingkindness toward myself, I gave that forearm a little rest between applications, a few extra minutes. But not too many, because the causes and conditions of caulk mean that it dries in a certain amount of time.

That's something I always need to remember, on and off the cushion. There are myriad causes and conditions that must be taken into account in any situation, whether it's the condition of the ice in the half-pipe for Olympic snowboarders, or the time it takes caulk to set, or the capacity of people at a business meeting to accommodate new patterns of thought. 

-Ellen Scordato @ellenscordato at The Interdependence Project @theidproject

Lovingkindess and compassion: Practice is essential and training is necessary so that metta can spontaneously arise when a situation arises. And compassion's partner, wisdom, is necessary as well. A little practice, a little letting go. I may not get to Sochi, but my bathroom tiles are tight!