I’ve been using a meditation lately. I learned it watching this Ted Talk, but when I did a random search to get the words right, I saw so many versions of it. The Ted Talk is deep, personal and funny though, and it has other insights, so it’s a good place to start.
The meditation is “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you live with ease. You close your eyes and start the meditation thinking of someone easy to wish well. That’s usually Russ for me, but it is easy to wish well for everyone close to me, so it could be anyone I care about personally. Then you say this on your own behalf and move on to a mentor or someone who’s helped you, followed by a neutral person, because they often get left out. Next, a difficult person.
For me the difficult one is almost always the same person. At first I would occasionally sprinkle in some other people, but I was pretty quickly able to get them off my difficult person list (for this purpose anyway) because they are also people I care about personally. After all these specific people you say the meditation for all beings everywhere. I have been doing this methodically as part of my bedtime routine, part of my drive or part of my ride for a few weeks (but, I obviously don’t close my eyes while operating a vehicle). It’s making my life better, helping me to feel less stress and separation.
At least a year ago I met a man at a trailhead. The entire parking lot was empty except for me. He drove up and parked badly right beside me, then took his folding bike off it’s bike rack in a way that caused me to have to wait on him to continue my own ride prep. He’s an older man who may well have reasons for putting a fold up bike on a rack, but I wasn’t thinking charitably about his logic or his process at the time.
He was wearing a big red, white and blue straw cowboy hat. At first glance it looks like a single truly unique hat, but it’s not. There is a rear facing ball cap on top with a message I don’t understand and can’t remember long enough to look up. He also wears a front facing ball cap with a conspiracy theory that has been proven false by valid non-partisan sources, but it’s very popular among some very angry highly politicized people. It’s a position that I find particularly offensive, dangerous and completely unpatriotic.
I don’t really know how these push me pull you bill caps both show fronts in each direction while resting on the crown of the same cowboy hat. Maybe they’re sewn together in the middle so that neither has a back, or maybe the second message is actually embroidered on the back of a single cap and there is no bill pointing backward. Whatever is going on with this one of a kind headwear, it’s undeniable that he’d be better off with a helmet, one void of fringe political commentary.
While I was waiting for this man to get out of my way so I could finish getting my own bike ready he was looking at me as if to say “I just dare you to say something to me!” No one who’s thinking ever says anything to the angry person pushing an agenda about their lack of courtesy. You don’t know how they will react and the chances that it will be bad are high. I wanted to avoid a confrontation and get on with my ride at least as badly as he seemed to want one. He rode off in one direction, and I was happy to intentionally go the other way.
I see him often now, so often that I think he may ride pretty much every day. He’s always sitting straight and tall on the fold up bike wearing the ironic cowboy bill cap hat stack and sometimes a cowboy shirt too. He’s recognizable from quite a distance. He now greats everyone on the trail and wishes them a good day. The first time he did so, it was such a stark difference to our original meeting that I didn’t even respond before it was too late. In fact, it took me a few passes to start responding in kind and when I did, my enthusiasm was less exuberant than his.
It’s hard for me to understand how people can believe the message on his hat. Factually and process wise, I understand how people who believe what he believes came to it, but, factually, the belief isn’t true. It’s far from the patriotism his red, white and blue appears to convey. It’s damaging to the truth, to democracy, to the country and to the people in it, those that do and those that don’t believe his assertion.
Now that his demeanor and attitude are so markedly different from that first encounter, seeing him is still unpleasant for me. One day I thought he had ditched the messages and was just wearing the straw hat. I felt a little dread lift, only to realize that the hat was just older now and the writing didn’t have enough contrast to jump out at a distance.
Yesterday, I saw him both coming and going and responded in kind both ways. I was thinking about how I didn’t look forward to seeing him or his message and how distinctive he was, so you knew it was him from a distance, which gave you more time to think about it if you didn’t discipline your thoughts.
Then it suddenly popped into my head. “May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you live with ease”. It helped. Once I thought those words for him I knew that the next time I saw him it would be easier. I could meet his greeting and return it with more enthusiasm than before. Wishing him well sincerely made me feel better.
It won’t change the deep chasm between us in any real sense unless so many other big things also change, but it took some weight off of me, and that is something I can handle a lot more of.
The meditation is even helping with that one very difficult person who is stands nearly alone at the precipice of my difficult person list. That person is going to be painfully present for many years to come, and there’s nothing I can do to change it. So, focusing on this, choosing an action to help me deal with it better, that is the one thing that I can do make real change in my life.
I highly recommend this meditation. One name for it is “Loving Kindness Meditation”. The name makes some people dismiss it before they try it. If you need some rational self-interested thought to get you to it, happy, healthy, safe people who are living with ease are not so vulnerable to outlandish conspiracy theories. They aren’t acting on the pain and fear that drives so much of what ails the world and they are less likely to dare you to act in ways that would bring things to a place you really don’t want to be. I don’t know if it works when you’re thinking in a circular self-interested way, maybe for some people, that’s the only way it works.
How ever you come to it, what ever your thoughts are, it’s worth a try.