Imagine that you are driving down the highway at a decent pace in heavy volume traffic, and some guy in a Mustang cuts you off. Without warning he zips right in front of you, forcing you to depress the brake and slow your pace. Then he speeds ahead, cutting off another car next to you, gets into the left lane and zooms off, weaving all the way.
At the moment that he cuts you off you can scream and shout and lay on your horn. You can give him the finger, and yell a few choice words. You can even speed up, and try to chase the guy down. You can follow him, screaming and honking. You can pull up along side of him, roll down your window and tell him exactly how you feel.
Then you can be pissed off. Huffing and puffing and stewing about how this self-entitled asshole thinks he can go faster than everyone else. When you arrive at your destination, you can talk about it to your friends. You can tell the whole story in dramatic detail. Enraged. Animated. Expressive.
Or, you can just let it go.
Yes, he cut in front of you. That’s over now. He’s 10 car lengths ahead of you and you’ll never see him again. There is no damage done. Go back to singing with the radio. Take the middle way. Practice equanimity.
It’s not easy to get to that place. I have met a few people who seem to be close. I hope to get closer every day. A little less road rage, a little more singing of power ballads. A little less Psycho Mommy, a little more patience. A little less self-righteousness, a little more understanding. A little less fear, anger, hatred and a little more humanity. A little less turmoil and a little more inner peace.
I want to be calm enough and confident enough in my peace, that I can react from that place; a place of equanimity, evenness of temper, and evenness of mind; a state of undisturbed calm.
I’ve come to realize that this may not be everyone’s goal.
A lot of people prefer to be up and down. They need distractions and disturbances. They need struggle, and they need drama. They like to experience extreme joy, and they sometimes look forward to dwelling in deep sadness. They need to stress about the future and they like to indulge in nostalgia. To a lot of people the idea of living a life of undisturbed calm is, quite simply, boring as hell.
People get so used to being a certain way, and reacting to situations in a certain way, that they think those reactions are actually a part of their nature. They believe that it is what people have come to expect of them, and it’s just the way they are, and will always be.
But that isn’t true. We can change our habitual reactions at any time, if we want to. There is more than one way to react to any situation. And the middle way is always there if we want to take it. Our reactions do not have to be extreme. They can arise from a peaceful and undisturbed mind.
The Dalai Lama said:
“The way to develop inner peace through meditation
begins with the recognition that the destroyer of inner peace
is not some external foe, but is within us.
Therefore, the solution is within us too.
However, that inner change does not take place immediately
in the way that we switch on a light,
but takes weeks, months and years.”
A few months ago my quest for inner peace and equanimity led me to a loving-kindness meditation. I began sitting with my breath and repeating these phrases.
May I be well.
May I be happy
May I be peaceful
May I be loved
May I be free from suffering
I did it every day, a few times a day. Whenever I had a minute or two (literally 60 or 120 seconds on a timer), I sat still, closed my eyes and breathed the words.
The first few times I did it at home, I cried. When a yoga teacher coincidentally made us do it in a class, I cried. And because it made me cry, I knew I had to keep doing it. So I did. I did it until it didn’t make me want to cry anymore.
Then I began to meditate on the people in my life that I love, dedicating my words to one person each time.
May they be well.
May they be happy.
May they be peaceful.
May they be loved.
May they be free from suffering
Without judgment, I noticed my reactions. The words felt different for each person. I think it depended on how much I felt they needed to be wrapped in loving kindness, or on how much relief I thought they might need from their suffering.
And then I began to include other people. While the attendant pumped my gas, I breathed the words for him. While I sat at a red light, I breathed the words for the woman at the bus stop. While I waited in line at CVS I breathed the words for the cashier.
I hope you are well, happy, peaceful, loved, free.
I began to send these thoughts to everyone, all the time.
And then I knew it was time to send it out to some other people. Those who try my patience, aggravate me, frustrate me. Those people I “have nothing against”, but on whom I would rather not spend any time or energy. I began to wish them wellness, happiness, peace, love, freedom from suffering. And I noticed, without judgment the way that it made me feel. (It ain’t always easy.)
It is relatively easy to make a sweeping statement about peace in the world. It is easy for me to generalize and say, I wish the whole world were free from suffering. I can wish love and peace and wellness to everyone.
May all beings be happy and free. Easy, right?
It’s what we all wish for. Isn’t it? Who doesn’t want peace on earth?
Hmmm…? Peace to everyone implies peace to Every. Single. One. Even the speed demon on the highway. Even the people we hate. Even the people who have insulted us. Wronged us. Abused us. Traumatized us. Scarred us. Even the people we think we will never forgive.
We have to say the words for those people. Well, happy, peaceful, loved, free. Noticing without judgment, how it feels to say those words for them. Maybe it will feel awful. Maybe it will feel like an absolute lie. Maybe it will begin to soften. Maybe it will begin to release us from our own suffering. Maybe we will absolutely refuse to do it.
Before we can wish it for the entire world, we have to take these steps. Before we let the easy words “Let there be peace on earth” roll off our tongues, we have to do some work.
It starts with me. I want inner peace. To get it I must be well, happy, loved, peaceful, free from suffering. Until I release the hatred for my enemies, forgive those who have wronged me, I can’t be truly free from my own suffering. If I cling to my anger and my habitual reactions, if I lose my evenness of temper and of mind, then I am the one who suffers. Then I’m not yet at peace.
If we don’t project loving kindness, that guy in the Mustang is happily belting out “Born to Run” with his windows rolled down while we’re left to stew in our own silent Subarus.
So let’s turn the radio up and wish him wellness, happiness, peace, love and freedom. And then we can have all of that too, and bring it to the rest of our world.
Isn’t that what we all wish for? Who doesn’t want world peace?
I hope you are well, happy, peaceful, loved, and free.