Connection & Belonging

April 23, 2013

Love Does That

All day long a little burro labors, sometimes
With heavy loads on her back and sometimes 
just with worries
About things that bother only burros.
And worries, as we know, 
can be more exhausting
Than physical labor.
Once in a while a kind monk comes
To her stable and brings a pear,
But more than that,
He looks into the burro’s eyes and 
touches her ears
And for a few seconds the burro is free
And even seems to laugh,
Because love does that.
Love frees.

-Meister Eckhart

Mindfulness & Metta, Loving Awareness
I’ve been thinking about connection and belonging and how they relate to mindfulness and metta. What happens when we connect with others? What happens when we feel we belong? Belong to ourselves, our families, our friends and our community; the threads that weave and bind us.  We show up week after week to sit together, to practice together. None of us could do this without the other. Our practice depends on it. We could actually say that our lives depend on it, because they do. What a thought!
Each week in class we spend about 30 minutes focusing on mindfulness practice and about 10 minutes practicing metta. But I think we’re actually doing both at the same time. The more I practice, the more I find that I cannot distinguish one from the other. Of course there is a literal distinction between the practice of continual non-judgmental noting and naming of whatever is arising, “planning, planning,” or “thinking, thinking” or “breathing in…breathing out,” and the classical recitation of metta phrases, “May I be happy, May I be safe, May I be well.” But at their core, I believe their ultimate intention is the same; to settle the mind, open the heart, and cultivate a soft resilience that allows us to be present and engaged in our lives without rancor or contention. 

Mindfulness really is inherently kind, and being kind is by nature mindful. They are intimately and inextricably linked. The outcome of a clear mind is a loving heart. Jack Kornfield aptly names this “loving awareness.” When we intentionally infuse our lives with loving awareness, our connections deepen and our sense of belonging grows.
Larry Yang is one of the founding teachers of East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, as well as a guiding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. He encourages approaching metta by “being kind to the practice of kindness itself.” I love that. By intentionally making kindness the starting point, we cannot help but be less reactive and less judgmental. It makes life so much easier. Larry is realistic, however, and acknowledges that it’s not always so easy to feel and act with a kind heart. It’s natural and normal to struggle, and we can’t always get it right, or be kind. 

Try this practice:
“If I cannot be loving, can I be kind?
If I cannot be kind, can I be non-judgmental?
If I cannot be non-judgmental, can I be non-harming?
If I cannot be non-harming, can I cause the least harm possible?”
I’ve added to this practice in reverse:
“When I have caused harm, may I learn to be non-harming?
When I experience non-harming, may I learn to be non-judgmental?
When I am non-judgmental, may I learn to be kind?
When I am kind, may I learn to be loving?”
A Rabbit Noticed My Condition
I was sad one day and went for a walk;
I sat in a field.
A rabbit noticed my condition and
Came near.
It often does not take 
more than that to help at times-
To just be close to creatures who
Are so full of knowing,
So full of love
That they don’t -chat,
They just gaze with their
Marvelous understanding.
-St. John of the Cross