metta

Airport Insecurity

Airport Insecurity

Flying provides a steady stream of frustrations: the crowded isolation of DIY check-in, the sock-footed walk on eggshells through TSA, the hypervigilant tracking of an elusive ETA.

All the inevitable discomforts of air travel make it a fertile attentional fitness opportunity. I’ve been developing a strategy that transforms the situation from hell into heaven. Okay, maybe more like a really productive purgatory.

Daron's Friendliness Resistance Mix Tape

Daron's Friendliness Resistance Mix Tape

Friendliness resistance training (my spin on loving-kindness practice) offers an opportunity to explore the notion that human behavior is driven by common drives to be safe, happy, healthy, and comfortable. This is in contrast to our normal default mode of evaluating the observable actions of others.

Here are some songs that tend to reduce my resistance to friendliness. 

Strangers

"Filmmaker, artist and writer Miranda July delivers a unique sermon that challenges our attitudes to strangers and asks us to be more adventurous and generous with how we interact with each other."

~ The School of Life

Miranda July on Strangers from The School of Life on Vimeo.

Take a Moment to Connect with a Stranger
by Miranda July

Grab hold of the nearest stranger. Don't take the stranger's hand, God knows where that's been, but grasp their arm, firmly. Don't let go until I tell you to.

Your best friend might meet this stranger at a rock show and they might sit in a parked car talking for hours and when they break up, 10 years later, the stranger, the one whose arm you’re holding right now, might call you sobbing at odd hours of the night, asking What did I do wrong? And you will say, You did nothing wrong. Practise this now, say: “You did nothing wrong,” to the stranger.

You may never meet this stranger again but you may, years from now, talk to the stranger’s grown child, in another country and never put it together that you once held his mother or father’s arm. It’s unlikely to come up. Incidentally, the stranger’s child will be very politically engaged, and you will do a lot of bluffing to keep up with the twists and turns of the conversation.

A few weeks from now, you might be at a restaurant with some friends and the people at the next table might be laughing incredibly loudly and with great frequency. And not at all innocently, you will think to yourself, they are laughing as if they are better than everybody else. The loudest laugher, the ringleader, has an especially arrogant cackle.

You imagine marching over there and punching the loudest laugher in the face, which is exactly the kind of fantasy you’ve been trying not to have. In an effort to apologise for the imaginary thrashing, you smile at the loudest laugher, who, you suddenly realise, is the stranger whose arm you held a few weeks ago.

This stranger might not have a drug problem now, but later, a few years after you become friends with the stranger, you will realise, with a sigh, that’s it’s best to take everything the stranger says with a grain of salt. Sigh now in preparation.

This is the first time you’ve touched the stranger, but the two of you might touch again, alone, in the dark. The stranger might ask you if that feels good and you might reply with an ambiguous mumble that the stranger couldn’t possibly understand, and you feel the stranger wanting to repeat the question, but deciding not to and now it’s too late for you to clarify your reply, which was affirmative. Confidentially, I would like to say to you now, It’s never to late.

This stranger will die, sooner or later, and you probably won’t be there to help the stranger let go of their life, which was made of many, many individual moments – this being one of them. Give the stranger’s arm a gentle squeeze right now, as if to say: “Go on, you can do it, just let go without really thinking about it,” as if life were a cup, or a rock, or piece of string.

You may let go of the stranger’s arm now.


See also:

Capable of Change

Sharon Salzberg, from "Embracing Our Enemies and Our Suffering," On Being, October 31, 2013:

They say that metta or lovingkindness is a practice of generosity. It's like generosity of the spirit. And the best kind of generosity comes from a sense of inner abundance, because if we feel depleted and overcome and exhausted and just burnt out, we're not gonna have the wherewithal inside, the sense of resourcefulness, to care about anybody, even to notice them all that much.

It's not only a kind of self-indulgence, but it's a self-preoccupation that happens when we feel so undone, so unworthy, so incapable of giving or whatever it might be, however it might manifest. So I really do see that factor of lovingkindness for one's self is this tremendous sense of strength and resourcefulness in terms of connecting to others.
 
I guess the one question that's very interesting to reflect on is how do I actually learn best? How do I change? How do I grow? Is it through that kind of belittling myself and berating myself and humiliating myself? Or is it through something else, some other quality like self-compassion and recognizing the pain or unskillfulness of something I've done or said and having the energy to actually move on?

So where does that energy come from? It comes from not being stuck. And how do we get unstuck? In fact, it's from forgiving ourselves and realizing, yeah, it happened. It was wrong. I'm gonna go on now in a different way because I'm capable of that. I am capable of change.  

March 1971

Listening to the recent On Being conversation with Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman on "Embracing Our Enemies and Our Suffering," reminded me just how significantly Sharon's practical insights have impacted my life.

I listened to an audiocassette version of Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness back in 2002 when training for my first marathon and before my first silent retreat. It was during this time that I also decided to leave the field of social work. I was tired. I felt exhausted, not by the people I tried to help who were suffering from mental illness or child abuse, but from the lack of reliable resources to give them. I spent my days evaluating emotional pain employed by organizations who seemed to have almost nothing (tangible or intangible) to provide in response to it.

So many of the professional helpers I worked with were glaringlly ill equipped to manage their own often serious problems let alone the challenges of people with billable issues. None of us were taught skills or strategies for taking care of ourselves or for maintaining healthy boudaries. A supervisor once said, "Social workers are a dime a dozen. If you don't want the job anymore, there are a line of others who will take it." This was in response to my trying to argue that the quality of work I was providing was beyond the expectations of the role as evidenced by my willingness to facilitate difficult treatment planning meetings in the absence of engagement from higher paid professionals.  

When you decide to leave the helping professions, people squint at you and shrug and tell you that you're burned out. But this diagnosis never rang true to me. We were constantly documenting that our clients needed to gain insight. It usually felt like a hollow goal. An imposed ideal. Everyone knows it's easier to be objective about another person's problems and what she could do to improve her plight. Isn't that what makes the perspective objective. But what was consistently lacking was an independent variable to test in the laboratory of the suffering person's life. Even if there was such a variable to tweak, however, there would still need to be some investment on the part of the person himself.

When I left social work, it was not due to burnout, it was the result of gaining insight.

I went in search of practical strategies I could experiment with to try to take better care of myself. I'd been attending weekly yoga classes with an exceptional teacher who uses a meditative approach. She pointed me to Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are which inspired me to experiment with bringing the practical strategies learned in yoga out into the ordinary activities of my life. When I heard about a four-day silent meditation retreat lead by Phillip Moffitt, I signed up months in advance. His wisdom articles in the Yoga Journal reminded me of the practical wisdom I'd discovered in these other books.

I was nervous about not talking for four days, but realized a few hours into the retreat that my worries had been misplaced. The silence ended up being a remarkable luxury, one that becomes more valuable as opportunities for experiencing it seem to become more scarce. What I wasn't prepared for was the rigorousness of the sitting and the boredom of the walking. This was problematic since these were the main activities we engaged in from very early in the morning until late at night. I was so physically and emotionally uncomfortable that I wanted to leave after a couple of days.

But when I met for my brief interview with Phillip, I told him that the only strategy that seemed to work when the physical pain became too intense to bear was the lovingkindness strategies I'd learned from Sharon's book. They involved considering the well-being of others and yourself. He suggested that if this approach brought relief, then perhaps it would be a good idea to include at least a bit of it during my daily meditation practice over the next two years to see if I noticed any impact.

I decided this prescription was either completely absurd or the most realistic suggestion about addressing some amorphous internal resistance that I'd ever encountered. Is it the consumerism that we're swimming in that makes us insist on instant resolution to our decades-old problems? When does anyone ever suggest more than ten or thirty days before promising to give your money back.

So I took him up on the challenge.

I attribute the consistency of my mindfulness practice since that day to this experiment. And I did notice an impact. But instead of noticing something being added to my life, I observed an erosion of an invisible barrier that I didn't know was there until it began to wear away. A wall between me and other people, but also between me and aspects of myself.

One of the most significant challenges I faced early on in the lovingkindess practice was trying to wish safety, happiness, health, and comfort for myself. Considering the well-being of the most difficult people in my life was much easier than this. I could simply not do it. It felt like a physical impossibility. One of the things I love about this work is that I did not need to get bogged down in this problem as a story to resolve. I did not go looking for causes, although looking back from the distance of years, I have some strong guesses about where the deeply ingrained self-loathing orignated. But reason alone would never have been enough to help me untangle them.

Vivid and Complex

sonder

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own

From The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows


See also:

Habits of Social Connection Leave Physical Imprint

Habits of Social Connection Leave Physical Imprint

"Our ingrained habits change us. Neurons that fire together, wire together, neuroscientists like to say, reflecting the increasing evidence that experiences leave imprints on our neural pathways, a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Any habit molds the very structure of your brain in ways that strengthen your proclivity for that habit." ~ Barbara Fredrickson

Mindful of Your Motives

"Empathy isn’t just a gooey feeling. It’s an acquired skill, and it takes a light touch. At first I was horrified by my insincerity, filled with self-disgust. I pledged to never be that way again. That didn’t help at all. No motivator is more useless than neurotic guilt.

What helps is mindfulness, but only if it’s intelligent. An astonishing number of meditators believe that watching the breath for hours will magically make them more insightful and loving. They’re dreaming. If you need to change your motives, be mindful of your motives, not your breath...

...Mindfulness steps us away from consoling rationalizations to quietly observe what we’re actually doing, feeling and thinking. It’s not guided by hope, but it’s not hopeless. It’s fearless...

...To have lasting results, mindfulness must turn you back to the realities you turn away from. By accepting your own dilemma you recognize everyone’s. Then real empathy simply happens. Once you get over the initial shock it’s strangely consoling. To face fear is to negate it. You see that your condition doesn’t define you. Empathy frees you to be a force of nature, not limited by your fears but empowered by an open heart."

~ Stephen Schettini, from "When Empathy is Dumb"


See also: 

Polishing Someone Else's Gold

Guante - "The Family Business" from Justin Schell | 612 to 651 on Vimeo.

The Family Business
by Guante

Jackie’s been here for twenty-five years and he tells me you get used to it. He says your nose learns to seal itself when you dive headfirst into an ocean of dust; your eyes develop nictitating membranes to keep the chemical sprays out; and your hands… they will grow their own gloves, invisible and tough and permanent. I’ve been a janitor for three weeks and I thought I was made of stronger materials.

We play chess in the break room. Jackie asks me what my favorite piece is. I say the pawn because, you know, he’s the underdog; the odds are against him. Jackie identifies with the pawns too, but he finds nobility in their sacrifice, he sees beauty in their simplicity, in the fact that they’re always moving forward.

Jackie shambles from room to room, moving half as fast as me but somehow getting twice as much done. The night shift will mess with your head like that. Jackie smiles, the saddest face I’ve ever seen. Sometimes I look at that face and feel like we are the servants entombed alive with the pharaoh, polishing someone else’s gold while our oxygen runs out, dutifully preparing a grand feast for a god who will never be hungry.

But Jackie tells me that there is honor in this. A good day’s work. An honest living. There is poetry in this.

But what kind of poetry lives in a can of orange naturalizer, the liquid breath of dragons? The mist dissolves every word creeping up my throat, overwhelms every idea. They got me wiping my reflection from the glass, scrubbing the shadows off the walls. They got me so scared of my alarm clock that I can’t fall asleep, even when my muscles drain out from underneath my fingernails and my thoughts stream out of my ears, and I am left with nothing but two eyes that refuse to close for fear of what they might see. 

Is there really honor in this? Or is that abstract notion the carrot they dangle in front of us pawns to move us across the board? 

But Jackie says you can’t think about it like that. He says that without us, the people who live and work in this building couldn’t function, that we keep the gears turning and that it might not be glamorous but it’s necessary. And maybe he’s right. Maybe I am just a working class kid who somehow hustled my way into college and got delusions of grandeur. Maybe now I’m “too good” to go into the family business: a hundred generations of janitors and farmers and infantry and factory workers and pawns.

So I suck it up… and last for two more months. And on my final day before an uncertain future, I make a point to shake Jackie’s hand, and I say:

"I’ve been thinking man. I think the reason pawns can’t move backwards is because if they could, they’d kill their own kings in a heartbeat. 

"Instead, we are forced to keep moving, believing we can get to the other side and become royalty ourselves, but most likely dying on the way there, sacrificed for a cause we don’t even understand. I wish you… I wish you the best, man. I wish you horses and castles."

Jackie smiles, the saddest face I’ve ever seen, and disappears into his work.

Let Us Ride This Wave

Keep Us
Peter Bradley Adams 

When the rain set in we had nowhere left to go
so we just stayed in bed while the thunder rolled
there's a comfort in the rain, one that lovers only know
so we lay hand in hand while the water rose. 

Every season will turn til the world is upside down
rivers overflow then go underground
but in the eye of the storm, in the safety of this house
we lay hand in hand while the world turns wrong.

So keep us and keep us, keep us from the storm.

There's a lesson in the rain that change will always come
let us ride this wave and then greet the sun
and though the ground may shake and we’ll think
we’ve had enough
we must raise our flags for the ones we love.

So keep us and keep us, keep us from the storm.
Keep us and keep us and keep us from the storm.

Happiness Floats

Dublin Recreation Center, March 12, 2012

So Much Happiness
by Naomi Shihab Nye, from Words under the Words

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against, 
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn't need you to hold it down.
It doesn't need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records…..

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

Vows

Matt & Daron, February 7, 2003

Daron's Vows

Matt —

Being born into this world is a mystery. There is no way for us to take credit for even one of the infinite number of steps that lead to the initial spark of our lives. Our lives are our gifts to us and I want to be wide awake for mine. I want to live it fully and honestly.

I did not go searching for you. You were a complete surprise. If I had known that such a phenomenon as Matt White existed, I would have set out to find you. You were like a pond hidden in the mountains of New Mexico that I accidentally happened upon — your surface completely still, your water crystal clear, the sun shining in the clear blue sky above you. Breathtaking. I continue to be amazed by the endless discoveries I've made in you.

How lucky are those who have been given a glimpse of the brightly colored fish living inside you. But I am the luckiest of all, having learned that contained in your depths is a treasure chest overflowing with riches and magic beyond my wildest dreams. I will never tire of swimming in you as long as I live. 

Considering what stood between where we were when we first met in February 1993 and where we are these ten years later, I am profoundly humbled by the impossibility of our union which I know is sacred and which is now being recognized as civil.

It is in awe of these miracles of life and love which are so easily taken for granted, that I enter into this vow of commitment to you by the choices I make every day. By practicing paying attention to the holiness hidden in each moment — in private and in public, in pleasure and suffering, alone and together — may our love continue its slow, unrepeatable blooming.

Matt's Vows

Daron —

I join you as my partner for life.

I vow to love you, honor you, respect you, and cherish our union. 

I seek to live each day with you in search of wisdom, truth, compassion, and peace. 

I promise to love you, comfort you, and encourage you through all of life's joys and sorrows.

Our union is made in love and will sustain us in our lives together. 

Closing Blessing

May we be free from internal and external harm.
May we have calm, clear minds.
May we be physically healthy, strong, and vital. 
May we share our experiences of love, joy, wonder, peace, and wisdom, in this life together, just as it is. 
And may the love we have for each other quietly ripple out of our home and into the world.

For What Binds Us
by Jane Hirshfield

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they've been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak. 

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There's a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh, 

as all flesh,
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest— 

And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.

Traveling Light

Five strategies for reducing travel stress -- especially around the holidays -- by Allan Lokos, from "Peace While Traveling? Not Impossible," by Rachel Lee Harris, New York Times, Dec. 15, 2011:

1. Accept the reality that most of what causes stress in travel is out of your control. In fact, you have much less control of things in general than you might like to believe.

2. Feeling rushed is one of the leading causes of stress. Go to airports and bus and train stations extra early. While others may be rushing frantically, you can be strolling leisurely.

3. Check in with yourself. Notice what you are feeling in a particular moment. If it’s annoyance, frustration or fatigue, don’t get all caught up in it. Don’t cling to the sensations.

4. Travel lightly. When I arrive at my destination for the holidays I announce to everyone, “I hope you like this sweater I’m wearing because you’re going to see it a lot.” And mail rather than carry gifts. Even one shopping bag is a nuisance.

5. Those around you are doing their best. Offer a smile that says, “Yes, I know it’s difficult, but we’ll all get there.” Perhaps a little later than scheduled, but you’ll get there. Let someone go ahead of you; it’s part of the holiday spirit.

Read the rest of the conversation here...


Books by Allan Lokos, guiding teacher of the Community Meditation Center in New York:

So Lonely So Close

Excerpt from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer:

My boots were so heavy that I was glad there was  a column underneath us. How could such a lonely person have been living so close to me my whole life? If I had known, I would have gone up to keep him company. Or I would have made some jewelry for him. Or told him hilarious jokes. Or given him a private tambourine concert. 

It made me start to wonder if there were other people so lonely so close. I thought about "Eleanor Rigby." It's true, where do they all come from? And where do they all belong?

Blue Face by Fernando MerloWhat if the water that came out of the shower was treated with a chemical that responded to a combination of things, like your heartbeat, and our body temperature, and your brain waves, so that your skin changed color according to your mood? If you were extremely excited your skin would turn green, and if you were angry you'd turn red, obviously, and if you felt like shiitake you'd turn brown, and if you were blue you'd turn blue.

Everyone could know what everyone else felt, and we could be more careful with each other, because you'd never want to tell a person whose skin was purple that you're angry at her for being late, just like you would want to pat a pink person on the back and tell him, "Congratulations!"

Another reason it would be a good invention is that there are so many times when you're feeling a lot of something, but you don't know what that something is. Am I frustrated? Am I actually just panicky? And that confusion changes your mood, it becomes your mood, and you become a confused, gray person. But with the special water, you could look at your hands and think, I'm happy! That whole time I was actually happy! What a relief! 

Bless Our Crummy Little Hearts

Bless Their Hearts
by Richard Newman, from American Life in Poetry: Column 347

Home for the Holidays (1995)At Steak ‘n Shake I learned that if you add
“Bless their hearts” after their names, you can say
whatever you want about them and it’s OK.
My son, bless his heart, is an idiot,
she said. He rents storage space for his kids’
toys—they’re only one and three years old!
I said, my father, bless his heart, has turned
into a sentimental old fool. He gets
weepy when he hears my daughter’s greeting
on our voice mail. Before our Steakburgers came
someone else blessed her office mate’s heart,
then, as an afterthought, the jealous hearts
of the entire anthropology department.
We bestowed blessings on many a heart
that day. I even blessed my ex-wife’s heart.
Our waiter, bless his heart, would not be getting
much tip, for which, no doubt, he’d bless our hearts.
In a week it would be Thanksgiving,
and we would each sit with our respective
families, counting our blessings and blessing
the hearts of family members as only family
does best. Oh, bless us all, yes, bless us, please
bless us and bless our crummy little hearts.

See also: Richard Newman on the How a Poem Happens blog

It Calms My Mind

"My brother’s screaming, my mom’s cussing, and I’m meditating."

~ Sam, Atlanta elementary school student who applies his mindfulness skills to difficult situations like being stuck in traffic. From "Brain Imaging Illuminates Neuro Basis of Meditation," by Carrie Gann, ABC News, Nov. 22, 2011

 

See also: