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Archive for March, 2009

As I was reading over the Pema Chodron piece on tonglen that I linked to yesterday, this sentence really struck me:

Primarily [tonglen] is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or cold we might seem to be.

I alluded, in yesterday’s post, to my own potential for coldness and for a little bit of cruelty — especially toward those I love the most. So I am thinking more and more (well as of the past few days) that these meditation practices that focus entirely on cultivating compassion — both from myself and others — are where I need to be headed/focused. Because of that, I am considering attending a tonglen retreat with Pema Chodron in June. That idea of overcoming a cold, cruel nature is so appealing to me.

This is not to say that I’m a bad person or that I’m beating myself up over who I am. It is just a straightforward recognition of the things about myself that I need to work on, and this kind of meditation practice provides a very specific and intensive structure with which to do that.

I work in a chemical dependency treatment clinic. I think there is a reason that I ended up at this particular job (there’s a story here of leaving eleven years of teaching college English to become an office manager at this nonprofit clinic), and I think it is very related to my own issues that need care and attention.

I am faced each day with people who are addicts, some of whom are grouchy and mean and selfish — they see themselves as having all of the problems of the world (and many of them do have a great deal of problems to deal with) — and they sometimes take it out on me. I am often stung by the insensitive demands for coffee and the implied or under-the-breath comments that I’m not “at their service.” Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore the majority of our clients; however, in them — both the ones I adore and the ones I don’t — I see so much of myself, and the scary thing is that because we serve only a population of people who are 50 and older, I see myself in a crystal ball. I see who I might be in the future, if I don’t make some of these changes now. And I’m not just referring to the nastiness, the cruelty in a few of these folks, I’m also talking about the anxiety, the fear and panic, the intense worry that fuels their addictions (and vice versa). I get to see all of those parts of myself in these people, and I get to witness their struggle on a daily basis.

This is all to say that a meditation practice, like tonlen (or metta), that is all about connecting with suffering seems a particularly fruitful practice given my workplace (I’m sure many workplaces provide similar ground for growth through this practice). The treatment clinic where I work allows me ample opportunity to connect with my own suffering as well as those around me who suffer a great deal (and a great deal more than I do).

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Metta

About a month ago, I did a retreat at Kripalu. It was a yoga and meditation retreat, and the meditation portion was on metta meditation with Sylvia Boorstein who was a student of Sharon Salzberg. Metta means “loving kindness,” and for an explanation of the basic concept of metta meditation follow the previous link. Sylvia’s version is a mantra based meditation that uses the phrase(s):

May you feel protected and safe
May you feel contented and pleased
May your body support you with strength
May your life unfold smoothly and with ease

While I thoroughly enjoyed the retreat and felt like I understood metta meditation (it felt a little like tonglen to me), I also thought it would not be a form of meditation I would practice in my “regular” life. I practice a mantra form of meditation
; however this series of blessings that Sylvia presented to us seemed very busy in my brain. My mind did not feel quieted or even like it was moving toward being quieted. Instead, I decided to integrate these ideas into my regular practice my reciting them as little prayers/blessings at the beginning and end of my meditation. That is, until lately….

One of the quotes that Sylvia opened our retreat with was from the Buddha:

“What a person considers and reflects upon for a long time, to that his mind will bend and incline.”

I think that though I have strongly felt meditation has the power to change my life/our lives, I really didn’t buy into this idea that if we focus on compassion, on loving kindness for very very very long and intensive periods of time, then eventually our minds will that way bend — naturally, automatically, instinctively. And for me, that is very important, as my mind currently does not tend to bend that way, or at least not in certain situations.

And so today, I thought maybe I should really give a meditation of loving kindness a try. So this morning, I gave up my mantra for the series of phrases that Sylvia recommended. I blessed myself with these first and worked my way toward folks that are not so easy to bestow loving kindness upon.

But interestingly enough, it is the person I love the most in this world (I’m sure that I’m not alone in this) who is most difficult, at times, for me to act kindly towards. But,

Since this meditation is concerned with the welfare of the living, one should not choose people who have died; one should also avoid choosing people towards whom one may have feelings of sexual attraction.

this means that I can’t exactly direct these blessings toward that person. Ultimately though, the idea is that when I have spent enough time (hopefully in this lifetime) reflecting in this metta-way, then the person whom I love the most will be the recipient of my loving kindness.

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