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.
Start practicing lovingkindness meditation
We begin with ourselves because truly caring for ourselves is the foundation for being able to care for others. Repeat silently, over and over, "May I be happy. May I be safe. May I be peaceful. May I live with ease." It's fine to use any phrase or phrases that are significant to you.
After a few minutes, begin silently offering the phrases to someone you respect and love, a benefactor or good friend. "May you be happy. May you be safe. May you live with ease." Following that, choose someone you feel fairly neutral toward, as Rachel did with her dry cleaner.
Then make a bold shift and call to mind people you don't get along with, those you have hurt, those who have hurt you. This might call up an immediate surge of resentment or annoyance. Rather than giving up, go back to offering lovingkindness to yourself in the face of your anger, impatience and distress. Over time our anger begins to subside as we care for ourselves and again practice opening our attention to those from whom we're estranged. This part of the meditation can be hard, but it's the place where we deeply contact our innate capacity for lovingkindess. Venturing beyond our preconceived limitations, we see how much love we have within.
Finally, offer the phrases to everyone, without exception or distinction: "May all beings be happy. May all beings be safe. May all beings live with ease." The care and kinship Rachel felt toward her dry cleaner, we feel toward everyone. As the Japanese poet Issa said, "Under the cherry blossoms' shade, there are no strangers."
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