Loving kindness. It’s a common term in Buddhism and it’s a great idea – treating each other and ourselves with loving kindness. When I am sitting at home, and all is well, I am all for loving kindness. I love my fellow-man and all beings on earth. The problems arise when I actually interact with my fellow-man. You know the ones – the driver who speeds up, cuts you off, and then promptly slows down; the really slow person in front of you in the grocery line when you are in a hurry; the person who, I am sad to say, rubs you the wrong way for some unknown reason and the way they look just really bugs you.
The first step to actually practising loving kindness when there are other people in the room, or the world, involves mindfulness. If you are not aware of how you are feeling or what you are thinking you cannot possibly hope to change it. I was sitting in a train station several months ago waiting for the train to arrive. I was in a perfectly foul mood – for no particular reason. Everyone I looked at bugged me. I didn’t like something about everyone I saw. I was just sitting there stewing in my own foul mood and spewing out negative thoughts about every person in the room. Fortunately, at some point I realized what I was doing and that none of these people had done anything to me and that I needed to snap out of this foul mood. I remember reading that if you smile, even if you are in a bad mood, you will trick your brain into thinking you are happy and then you will feel happy. I did something similar. I forced myself to find one good thing about every person that I saw – she has nice hair, I like the colour of his boots, that person has a nice suitcase. You get the picture. It was totally forced but it broke my miserable mood. It’s hard to be miserable when you are thinking positive thoughts. The key was to recognize the negative thoughts in the first place and then switch them over to positive.
I heard another helpful idea when we visited the London Buddhist Centre on a recent visit to England. We participated in a group loving kindness meditation where you sent out loving thoughts first to people you loved, then to people who you encountered on a regular basis but didn’t really know, and then to someone you really don’t like very much. The idea that I found very helpful is that when I find myself getting upset with someone because of their actions or even just because of the way they look, I remind myself that they are human just like me. Repeating this to myself reminds me that everyone is human – they were born that way, they can’t help the way they look, they make mistakes, they have an agenda – just like me.
So now when someone cuts me off in traffic, if I can remember that they are human and make mistakes just like me, I can let the incident go much quicker and move on with my life.