Points of View (written 2018)
Life is especially full these days and time for “me” isn't easy to come by. When I feel the tickling of ego's demands, I come back to some simple and effective methods related to metta or loving kindness practice but that also inevitably incorporate reminders of anatta, the not-self that is so often obscured by my busy self-creating.
It's immediately effective for me when “self” wiggles and pinches, to simply change my perspective. Ignoring the committee voices in my head that tell me my plans and activities are so important, I step across the imaginary gulf between myself and other. In any interaction, I imagine the need or desire that is pressing for the other? Putting on, for a moment, the skin of the “other” turns priorities upside down. Not, then, my need to get to my computer and work waiting, but my husband's need for assistance with an awkward task, my son's wish for a snack, my guest's desire to talk awhile, the telephone solicitor's need to make a certain number of sales, the dog's need for a walk, the cat's for a cuddle. I don't mean to imply that all other needs and desires come before my own. But this process, this experiment with a change of point of view reminds me that we are, all of us, beings with needs and desires. It tempers a response of impatience or irritation. It reminds me that this “personal” need I find so pressing is just one in an ocean of many, that I am one in an ocean of many.
This often opens the necessary space for reflection. It may mean I respond with more kindness even if I continue on my way to the computer, or, quite often it may mean that I see that my sense of urgency about my own need is my own creation. And suddenly I am drawn happily into helping with the awkward task, preparing a snack, taking part in a conversation, cuddling the cat or walking the dog...and at least listening to the full spiel of the voice on the phone and politely declining, rather than responding gruffly and hanging up.
Metta practice is about goodwill and harmlessness. But it is not just a gift we give to others. Not some magnanimous act, like a prince on parade leaning down to sprinkle coins among the populace. Rather it is a reframing of perception, opening the heart to all beings, acknowledging the value of all beings, and finding level ground. It is not even the prince climbing down off his horse. It is the realization that the horse and the crown, and the coins were all illusion. That in opening this heart, I include everyone, even this deluded and imaginary separate and defined self. And the result is joy.
I can honestly say that when I have engaged in this practice of reflection and then found myself choosing the need of another over my own, I have never been sorry. It has always resulted in more ease and happiness for me. I have, however, chosen the need of another over my own in a willful and grudging way, locked into my own perspective all the while, and been grumpy and miserable as a result. It's not, then, what I choose to do, but how I come to the choice to do it. The framework, the open-heartedness of metta makes all the difference.
The stories our committee of voices tells us about the importance of our activities, of our needs and desires, are persuasive. And habitually we listen to them. This is, after all, how we get things done, meet our goals, look after ourselves. There are many ways of practicing metta, and when they are done sincerely and effectively, they all turn down the volume of these demanding voices, which is, in itself, a blessing and relief. This particular practice of entering the mindspace of another, spins us around in a way that can be a little dizzying at first in its unfamiliarity, but it opens our perceptions in new ways. We might even reevaluate some of the goals that drive us. We might realize that we sometimes mistakenly have been explaining greed as self care, or resentment as justified. Maybe. Or we might just find a sweet moment of joy. That seems a reward worth the effort.