Friday, March 26, 2010

Giving Advantage, Revisited

In the blog posting of March 18, I described how we can get something very substantial in return for giving nothing. The example I used was from the mindfulness study group that I have been leading. I mentioned that one of the participants said, "Whenever I see someone signaling to come into the lane I'm in, I always give them space."

The following week, this person gently corrected me. "I didn't say 'whenever I see someone signal'," he told me. "I do it whenever I see anyone who wants to come into the lane I'm in, whether they signal or not!" This is a subtle but important distinction. If we only let people have the space when they politely request it, that is all well and good. It is when they insist on taking the space, sometimes aggressively, that we must be especially willing to give this little bit of nothing away.

It is very easy, and in some ways culturally encouraged, to see all of our problems as being the fault of someone else. "That other driver just came into my lane and that really made me angry!" Notice in just this short declaration the attachment to I, me, and mine. The lane is not mine, and the anger came from within me.

According to the teachings of the Buddha, the antidote to ill will and anger is loving kindness. When someone does something that affects us, whether knowingly or unknowingly, we can always send a little loving kindness their way. Loving kindness practice is not about trying to change the other person, nor is it condoning harmful or unskillful behavior. It is merely an act of "inclining the heart" toward a fellow being with whom we are sharing a brief moment in our lives. It is a "wishing well" to that being, and an allowing of the heart to soften, and for the grip of self to loosen.

Loving kindness practice (or "metta" in Pali, the language of the Buddha) is very simple. Just let these phrases inwardly resonate through you whenever you feel the heat of anger or ill will toward another:
May your life be filled with loving kindness.
May you be peaceful.
May you be happy.
May you be safe.
May you be well.
You can repeat one or all of these phrases several times to yourself, or even aloud if you wish. Almost instantly, the fires of anger will subside. Always remember that it is we who suffer when we project ill will toward another. Loving kindness practice is a great way to reduce this suffering, and to make the world a better place in the bargain.

In the words of the Buddha from the Dhammapada:
In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.

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