Yesterday afternoon I sat in meditation with my wonderful group that meets weekly. It was a beautiful fall day, the first to be cool and crisp in the morning, warming as the day moved on. I felt happy as I padded into the space in my bare feet and sat on the floor at the front. Enjoying myself, I sank into meditation.
About ten minutes into the sit, a man came in late and sat behind me. And then he started to cough intermittently. Out of peace my judgmental mind jumped into action: really? You’re going to come in late, walk down to the front, and then start coughing? Where is your ricola?
And here I was, confronted with a “difficult” person and having to deal, right in my meditation practice, with my own judgmental mind. What I wanted was release from this judgment. I often long for release from this judging mind, especially while driving. When driving it can show up in a firestorm, tormenting me as I judge bad drivers making similar bad choices to ones which I have, at times, made while driving.
As I sat there on my cushion yesterday with all of this chatter going on, I realized that what I want even more than release from the judgmental mind is to have a compassionate heart. And at that moment, I began to find relief from the brain chatter. I turned a heart of compassion on coughing-man and began to practice loving-kindness meditation toward him. When I did that, the judgment ceased.
Loving-kindness meditation is a simple practice. It begins with self, moves to someone I care for, and then moves toward someone I may find difficult. It goes like this:
May I be safe from internal and external harm.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I be at ease and know peace.
Yesterday, I began to use this practice with coughing-man. May he be safe, may he be happy, may he be healthy, may he know peace. And, as these things work, I was the one who began to find some peace.
As the meditation practice came to a close and Kathy began her talk, she announced that the title of her talk was “Living skillfully in the difficult.” All I could do with that was quietly chuckle to myself.