Have you ever had the experience when a seemingly random scene or interaction with someone sticks in your memory for a very long time?
One such conversation for me happened in the early 2000s at the height of the skipping movement media whirlwind. I honestly can't even remember who I was talking to. It was someone I had just met.
We were discussing iSkip.com, of course, since I was pretty much obsessed with my quest to start a skipping movement at the time. I enthusiastically shared how skipping offered a magical way to escape from the realities of the world. When I skipped down the street, everything and everyone else fell away, and I was at one with my joy. Neither my inner or outer critics could reach me, and the liberation that offered was truly exhilarating.
I was struck at the time by what a good listener this mystery person was as I blathered on, but it was what he said once he got a word in edgewise that never left me. "That is all truly wonderful, but you will know you really have something when you can skip down the street with that same sense of freedom and include the external world in your experience as well."
Even though I did not have the inner strength or presence to make what he described a reality at the time, I did recognize his words as truth. It wasn't until just recently, nearly a decade and a half later, while on a personal retreat in Big Sur, California, that I discovered a practice that offers the promise of finally unlocking that skipping koan (or riddle) he offered so long ago.
I was at the Esalen Institute doing a five-day workshop called "The Dancing Buddha: Conscious Embodiment and the Awakened Heart," which was co-led by Donald Rothberg and Heather Munro Pierce. It blended meditation, free form dance, and teachings on four qualities of an awakened heart: Loving-kindness (also called Metta), Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity.
My expectation going in was that I'd get the most out of the dance part of the workshop and kind of suffer through the meditation. Instead it was a small intimate group of about 10 people, which created a pleasant but much more grounded dance experience than I initially anticipated. To my surprise, it was a loving-kindness meditation practice we learned that really rocked my world.
The way loving-kindness (or metta) meditation works is that you repeat phrases in your mind while sending positive heart energy to yourself and others. Donald offered several phrases that people commonly use as the basis for a metta practice, and encouraged us to create our own based on four general touch points.
- May you be happy.
- May you be free.
- May you be as healthy as possible, and accept your limitations with grace.
- May you live with ease.
During the meditation we were instructed to repeat those phrases in our minds, with our hands on our hearts, while invoking an inner feeling of warmth, fondness, and love. We spent several minutes sending loving kindness in this way to six different categories of people: ourselves, a good friend, a benefactor, a neutral person, a difficult person, and one round for all sentient beings.
When we make loving-kindness (even in as few as 10 minutes a day) a regular practice, it helps the mind become more focused and provides a powerful antidote for fear. It also helps us more easily greet the world from a kind and accepting mindset. It's very cool stuff.
The day I got home from Big Sur, I went to see one of my favorite bands play a free concert and found myself spontaneously sending loving kindness to people around me.
At one point, I started skipping up the aisle, and noticed an older, conservative gentleman looking at me kind of crosswise because of it. I felt myself begin to recoil into the safe place within that has become so familiar over the years... and then I stopped and tried something different.
They say that the best defense is a good offense, so instead of going into a place of self-protection and hiding within my joy, I tried sending loving-kindness instead by repeating just two of the phrases I had learned silently in my head while sending heart energy outward, "May you be happy. May you be free. May you be happy. May you be free." It instantly created a deep and profound shift.
The rest of the afternoon as I danced and skipped my way around the venue, instead of going deeply inward, I kept playing with sending loving-kindness to others instead... WOW! It was a whole new skipping ball game.
Luckily, I already had a daily 10-minute meditation practice in place thanks to the meditation group I started at New World Library, so it has been easy to blend my metta phrases into that routine... I like how it brings in elements of prayer and positive affirmations... and how much more enjoyable it makes my time on the cushion than when I was just focusing on my breath!
I've also been having a lot of fun experimenting with sending loving-kindness in other ways throughout my day... to those working out around me while I am on the Stairmaster at the gym... to people I pass in the grocery store... or to fellow drivers on the road.
The more subtle and internal energy of loving-kindness brings balance to the unbridled, exuberant joy of skipping, and the new perspective the practice has given me feels like I have discovered a key piece of the "being the love" puzzle.
Early returns on my first two weeks of practice are definitely favorable, but I also know I'm in the honeymoon phase with it all. The real test will be whether I can stick with it for the long haul. That's certainly my intention, as is sharing more of my experiences experimenting with loving kindness here. So until I write again... May you be happy and may you be free.