Over the past weeks we have been exploring the word ‘should’ and similar bully words that shove us around. We’ve practiced noticing these words as they come up and then using that awareness to explore where we get stuck in our lives, how we lose vital energy by relying on should thinking to determine our course.
When we pause, even briefly, we can tap into that vital energy that courses through us -- the energy of light and loving-kindness that is our natural way of being in the world.
Now here you might skillfully question ‘Is this true? Is kindness our natural way? Are we born to it?’ When I ask in about this, I can’t help but think about the babies I’ve been hanging out with lately. Openness, curiosity and delight come quite naturally to newborns and as soon as they start spending more time awake, and basic needs are attended to, they are quite present, interested and easily delighted by whatever comes.
These naturally-occurring dispositions can easily be shut down and distorted. But if they are not, if they are met with loving-kindness, then loving-kindness will result. Parents and all who help care for children have the power to nurture or quash their way of being in the world, making their roles the most important and powerful in the world.
So babies are a good indicator that openness and loving kindness are basic to our nature. But we can do our own inner exploration by spending time away from the clamor of the media, electronics and the social interactivity that is central to most of our lives.
When we sit or walk in silence, our minds have the opportunity to calm. If we let our eyes close or gaze upon a tree, a bird or a flower, then we get a more accurate reading of our own nature. The thoughts that race around in our brains may still be there, but in time they may begin to seem more superfluous, no longer a part of who we believe ourselves to be. Awareness intensifies. The present moment expands and becomes all encompassing. In this moment we are simply here, sensing into this experience of being. What may arise from this experience is an upwelling of gratitude and tenderness for all of it.
If you try this experiment and are frustrated because your mind does not suddenly find perfect peace, then just be with the bundle of expectations, judgments and dissatisfaction that arises. Not as a punishment, but as an opportunity to be aware of what is, to breathe into it, to hold it with as much kindness as is possible in the moment. You are not unique in your frustration! Just allow for the possibility that awareness and loving kindness to the thoughts and emotions that arise is more useful than compounding misery with more harsh judgments. When we are most resistant, ‘allowing for the possibility’ is a gentle prod that can be very effective. It seems like not much of a concession, so we meet it with a perhaps grudging willingness. And that’s all that is needed to begin the process of melting the hard cold clamped down tightness that keeps us from accessing our true nature.
Though some may never take the opportunity to give themselves the gift of pausing to be in the moment, the ability to let go and access this ‘Buddha nature’ is within us all. So yes, we are naturally conduits of loving kindness, and when we are able to open to it, we align with that energy and amplify it.
This quality of amplification is one I hadn’t considered much in my practice. I imagine myself as a conduit of universal energy at times, but it acts more as a megaphone rather than a pipe shape. It takes the universal energy and focuses it in a particular direction, based on our natural interests and talents. This focus amplifies the felt sense of the energy.
Sounds like a lot of responsibility! You may be familiar with the quote by Marianne Williamson that reminds us that we are powerful beyond measure. Somehow we know this and often are afraid of this power. We have seen power misused. We have seen charismatic people incite crowds to all manner of destructive behavior. So we are right to be cautious! But it is not skillful to shut down the power that is within us. It is skillful instead to notice always if it is arising from fear, thus leaving destruction in its path; or arising from univeral loving-kindness, and thus creating spaciousness, a sense of well being and oneness.
We are all powerful. You undoubtedly have experienced or observed this power many times. Someone walks into the room and things lighten up, become fun and creative. Suddenly all seems possible. Conversely, someone walks into the room and suddenly things get weird, frenzied, anxious, contentious or the color just drains away and everything feels heavy. Perhaps you feel a need to leave.
One person can do that! Each of us is affecting the energy in whatever situation we are in. We may think we are separate and that our little inner world of turmoil is our business and no one else’s. But there is no separate inner world! There is no ‘me’ in that sense. Our misery may not love company, but no matter how we try to hide it, it’s what we are sharing in every exchange, even when we just stop to buy a little something at the store.
You know this is true. You have seen it over and over again in your life. You have observed it in others, perhaps seeing a miserable person as separate, pathetic, someone you can compare yourself to and feel glad you are not him or her. But whatever thoughts and feelings exist in you at that time arise from the combination of your energy and theirs -- powerful enough to invade your line of thought or even change the flavor of your day, depending on how much it resonated within you.
When we are centered, calm, compassionate, and fully present, we are powerful beyond measure to bring peaceful joy to every situation. So when we practice meditation, we are not being selfish at all. We are tuning in to the energy that is generous and life-affirming so that all beings may be well. We are not retreating from the world to escape it. We are regrouping, reconnecting to the natural loving-kindness of being so that we and all those we encounter may be made more spacious, alive and loving.
Affording ourselves the opportunity to access our true nature is our homework for life. This is about coming home to the open, curious, easily delighted nature that is our Buddha nature.
How do we do it? We notice. We question. We offer ourselves opportunities to pause, to breathe, to be present. We take the ‘shoulds’ that arise in our self-talk and use them for more exploration. We breathe spaciousness into the tangle of our thoughts and emotions so that they unravel and allow themselves to be known as just thoughts passing through, just emotions rising up and falling away.
As part of our practice, we send metta, the Pali word for infinite loving-kindness, to all beings. aligning with this kind of energy. Perhaps we experience this as being energetic expressions of God or all that is or however we are most comfortable envisioning that infinite nature that arises when we quiet down and allow the feeling of spacious interconnection to be known within us.
Everything I teach, everything any meditation teacher teaches, points us back to this simple practice of being present and being compassionate with ourselves when we discover we are not. This is not just a sitting practice. It is a life practice. Wherever we are, at any time, we can pause, we can gaze at whatever is before us, we can sense into physical sensation, we can notice tension, thoughts, emotions and simply breathe into them with our open, curious delight.
This is our birthright. It's who we are. It’s our Buddha nature.