“Practice: Repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency.”
Yesterday, on my way to the city, I practiced loving kindness. I practiced it like you practice the piano. My teacher, Rinpoche Anam Thubten, had just written us about lovingkindness. “In everyday life we’ll be constantly running into situations where we can practice loving kindness. It would be very meaningful to make some kind of conscious commitment to practice that when the day begins. Or we can practice it towards the first person we run into at the beginning of the day. And sometimes we don’t have to express it.” [emphasis mine]
On the subway, I began looking around. Every single face showed its own world of struggle–people who looked bitter, or sad; people just barely making it through the day; people dealing with harrowing challenges that I’ll never know about; and people just pissed off, impatient, or dead tired. I began focusing on one face at a time, wondering what the person would look like if he or she were in a deeply peaceful, joy filled place–like if some angel came along and lifted every tangled worry, every resentment, every guilt, every problem out of their being, and they were truly free–what would she look like? How would he walk? With no change of clothing or situation–like right here on this subway, if it happened right now in this moment, what would it be like for them and how would it appear to me?
It was getting fun. The less likely the candidate, the more real I made it–(cut off Wall Street guy, all the way to the homeless guy stinking of urine and carrying all his possessions; the jaded, entitled teenage girl deftly navigating the apps on her iPhone to the spent middle aged woman with two small children and a third in the stroller, all of them crying, wanting something). They didn’t turn into cartoon versions of joy, all leaping and happy. But they softened, and the essential self we hide so often deep inside our skin came beaming out through their eyes. Bodies relaxed. Eyes met fearlessly. Laughter ensued. Human connection were made.
For a moment, this was all very real for me. Each and every face I looked into received this outpouring of imagination, this vivid re-vision of who they really were and what was possible. And because it was real, I began to feel love and compassion for each person, for the pain they each carried, for the soul inside that was working its way through whatever karmic jobs it had been given this time around.
Then it hit me how great I felt, how completely peaceful and joy-filled. It kind of snuck up on me, and it was real.
Rinpoche was right, we don’t have to express it. I practiced loving kindness, but I never expressed anything to anyone. Never said or did anything. But suddenly I was buoyed by an ocean of well being, a sea of peace. And now that I’ve come this far with this exercise, I’m wondering what would happen if I threw this imaginary boomerang of loving kindness out into the world not only mentally but physically. If all my actions were imbued with this vision.
I hold the door open for a woman with her arms full, and as I do it I envision her complete freedom. I love her for everything she carries–in her arms and in her life. This is practice. This is the repeated systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency in peace, which begins in the mind.