Sharon Salzberg is a Buddhist teacher, and also a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts.
“Whenever I teach lovingkindness retreats in an urban setting,” Sharon explains, “I ask students to do their walking meditation out on the streets. I suggest they choose individuals they see and, with care and awareness, wish them well by silently repeating the traditional phrases of the lovingkindness practice, ‘May you be happy. May you be peaceful.’ I tell them that even if they don’t feel loving, the power of their intention to offer love is not diminished. On this day our retreat took place a few blocks from downtown Oakland. Since we were directly across the street from the Amtrak station, several people chose to do their practice on the train platform.”
“When a train pulled in, one woman from the class noticed a man disembark and decided to make him the recipient of her lovingkindness meditation. Silently she began reciting the phrases for him. Almost immediately she began judging herself: I must not be doing it right because I feel so distant. I don’t feel a great wash of warm feeling coming over me. Nonetheless, reaffirming her intention to look on all beings with kindness instead of estrangement, she continued thinking, ‘May you be happy. May you be peaceful.’ Taking another look at the man, who was dressed in a suit and tie and seemed nervous, she began judging him: He looks so rigid and uptight. Judging herself, she thought, Here I am trying to send lovingkindness to someone and instead I’m disparaging him. Still, she continued repeating the phrases, aligning her energy with her deep intention: to be a force of love in the world. At that moment the man walked over to her and said, ‘I’ve never done anything like this before in my life, but I’d like to ask you to pray for me. I am about to face a very difficult situation in my life. Somehow, you seem to have a really loving heart, and I’d just like to know that you’re praying for me.’”
For the last week, I haven’t felt loving. My whole focus has been on me being sick. Sometimes, when I’m composing a post, the old Bruce makes himself known. But it feels like I’m a far cry from the human being who wished others well throughout my three-month meditation retreat. Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe you can’t go back to a less inclusive form of consciousness. It could be that the physical symptoms are merely masking the essence of Bruce.
Tonight I choose to meditate. I don’t imagine that tomorrow a guy in a suit is going to say “I’ve never done anything like this before.” and that’s fine. In Massachusetts, I was clear that my love was reaching people. I’m somewhat less clear right now … but actually it still touches others, whether I’m feeling euphoric, sublime or flat.
So … I will do what I’m meant to do, through the good times and bad.