Woman meditating on beach
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Rachel, who is one of my meditation students, surprised me with her enthusiastic greeting. "I've fallen in love with my dry cleaner!" she said. I'd last seen her six months earlier at a retreat I'd taught on the power of lovingkindness, or metta, a Buddhist term for boundless friendship toward oneself and others. Noticing how puzzled I looked at her sudden confession, she laughed. "No, I haven't fallen in love with him romantically. My dry cleaner was the person I chose to focus on at the lovingkindness retreat." I had instructed the participants to focus on someone they didn't have strong feelings about, someone they normally might hardly notice, and to direct wishes for well-being toward that person. "Now every day when I meditate, I hold this man in my heart and consciously wish him well," Rachel said. "I find that I'm eager to go into the store to see him. I really care about him."

Rachel hadn't deepened her relationship with this man because she owed him something, or felt obliged by a favor he'd done. She didn't know the particulars of his life, his challenges or his sorrows. Rachel came to care genuinely for the dry cleaner simply because she'd begun including him in the attentiveness of her heart. By doing so, she awakened to the humanity of someone who'd barely registered before.

The practice of lovingkindness meditation brings to life our innate capacity for connecting to ourselves and others. The lovingkindness we cultivate breaks thorugh the habit of indifference or judgment that keeps us feeling separate from others. A capacity for friendship and kindness exists within each of us, without exception. No matter what pain we might have gone through in our lives, that capacity is never destroyed. It may be—and often is—obscured, but it's there.

The key to uncovering this potential is paying attention in a positive way. So often we don't have the time or the patience to take an interest in people; instead we look around them or right through them. Being attentive to someone opens the door to discovering who she or he actually is. Like Rachel, we find that the people we relate to at work, at school, while doing errands no longer seem so much like strangers. Something happens to our world, and we don't feel so alone.

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