After writing how I’d only tried meditation once at home, I felt pressure to try again. Doing it once a week in class is fine, but to reap all the benefits, I know I need to practice regularly. Yesterday morning, I found myself vexed over a difficult person I am forced to spend a lot of time around, and it dawned on me that meditation might help.
I guess everyone has someone like this in their life. My person is consistently negative, two-faced, ungrateful and oblivious to it all. Lately, everything about her rubs me the wrong way and the other day I overheard her whispering to someone else (yet again) and I think it might have been about me. Gossip is all fun and games until it’s about me.
And what do I do with all this negative energy towards someone with an already abundant supply of negative energy? Ignore her? Oh I wish. Tell her off? Not my style and not an option anyway. Pray for her? Maybe something like that.
The other day in meditation class the instructor had us do what’s called a metta meditation, also known as a loving kindness meditation. Instead of focusing on the breath, you silently repeat a series of phrases focused around wishing someone freedom from harm and distress. Usually you start with yourself as the subject and then move onto the people you love, animals, strangers, and even enraged people that gesture wildly at you from the safety of their own car.
This is an example of a traditional metta meditation directed towards another person:
1. May she be safe and protected.
2. May she be peaceful and happy.
3. May she be healthy and strong.
4. May she have ease of well being and accept all the conditions of the world.
Because I have a lifelong inability to memorize songs or phrases plus a handy tendency to just wing it when I need to recall unfamiliar words (as a kid, I knew you were supposed to follow the speed lemon and that my babysitter loved watching soap boxers), I made up my own list of four things I wished for this person. I don’t think the words matter so much as the sentiment. When I repeated them, I genuinely meant them. I was wishing goodwill towards her for ten solid minutes.
Why would metta meditation work? Does me sitting in my kitchen thinking positive thoughts send them drifting over like puffy clouds, which shower her with rainbow-glitter-happiness? Probably not, though that does sound kind of cool (or creepy).
I suspect it works by retraining the way I think about her. The metta meditation reminds me very much of the two-week resentment prayer I heard about long ago at a 12-step meeting.
If you have a resentment you want to be free of, if you will pray for the person or the thing that you resent, you will be free. If you will ask in prayer for everything you want for yourself to be given to them, you will be free…Even when you don’t really want it for them, and your prayers are only words and you don’t mean it, go ahead and do it anyway. Do it every day for two weeks and you will find you have come to mean it and to want it for them, and you will realize that where you used to feel bitterness and resentment and hatred, you now feel compassionate understanding and love.
I am not a pray-er because praying still calls to mind asking for a better grade than I deserve or immediate repeal of unfortunate consequences after I did something really stupid. Meditation is my version of prayer, plus there’s no mention of doing a metta meditation every day for two whole weeks.
Does it work? I did feel better afterwards. I felt less consumed by my own negative feelings. I felt more peaceful and focused, which is usually the case immediately after I meditate. Later in the day, I felt myself get riled up again, so maybe there are no shortcuts on the two week rule.
Because I can’t change difficult people or let everything roll off my back, the only thing I know to do is try and retrain the way I think about them. There have been plenty of people in my life that I’ve viewed in a more positive light than they probably deserved, myself included. Even if metta meditation is just a trick of the light, the end result is a greater good.