Metta was inspired by the teachings of Buddha. By consciously practicing random niceness we develop into peace promoting individuals – even when our stress threatens to control our world. ‘They’ say if we consciously practice anything ten or more times it can become habit. What a great habit it could be if everyone practiced being nice to others. While it is a basic instinct to care for family and friends, consciously being nice to people we don’t know is a different story.
People are afraid to reach out to others, often with good reason. The violence we read about, and sometimes experience, makes us keep a safe distance from anyone we don’t know. Even still, there are plenty of safe opportunities to lend a hand. There are often community outreach programs that help seniors and/or children. Volunteering always makes you feel good. When you feel good, you naturally want to share that feeling.
In my experience, practicing yoga encourages metta. I find that when I feel great physically and less stressed mentally – I am simply nicer to people. It can be quite difficult to take a step back when stressful situations arise and we want to act out in anger. Practicing metta; knowingly being extra nice to people, can be habitual if you allow it to be. My Yoga practice promotes the awareness to look at situations objectively.
Structured programs are not the only example of opportunities to practice loving kindness. You can practice during every day circumstances ~ just by adjusting your attitude.
Let’s take road rage as an example. Here you are, rushing here and there, always trying to stay ahead of the clock and get everything done; everyone wants something and it seems to never be enough for anyone and then — someone cuts you off and you have to slam on your brakes to avoid hitting them. Yikes!
Controlling your angry thoughts and thinking about the other driver is difficult. What if it is a mother rushing to pick up a child – sick from school, or she may be late from work? What if it is someone’s son rushing to a hospital or home to care for a sick parent? If you can find some empathy – understanding – in your heart, you are practicing metta.
Another example: Waiting in a doctor’s office for hours. Instead of feeling anger that the doctor’s office is wasting your time, consider that the doctor is caring for someone who may be much sicker than you are. If the situation was reversed would you be thinking about the people who had to wait a little longer?
How about being stuck in traffic and then finding out that there was an accident and someone was injured? Do you blame the drivers’ recklessness for making you late or are you grateful that you are healthy and safe? Maybe say a prayer for the injured and their families or go home and hug your own family.
Have you seen someone struggling to reach something in a grocery store and walked right by? Or do you offer to reach it for them? Would you let someone go before you in line if they only had a couple of items? Or do you rush to get to the register first?
Although I try to practice metta all of the time, there are always situations where I need to step back and ask myself if I reacted, or could I have possibly acted differently. Bring some awareness to your outgoing attitude, however you need to, and then try to take that step back and look at your actions from a different standpoint. When I feel stressed and my metta practice seems difficult, I try to get back to my yoga mat, or at least practice some stress relieving breathing. Find your source of virtue; that place in your soul that you can be to see clearly. Ask yourself honestly if a situation was handled in the most positive manner that it could have been.
Action and reaction are two very different things. Your general attitude can promote either. Your outlook in any given situation can determine the outcome. Should you react to a negative situation or take action to improve the circumstances?
The bottom line is that you can control your attitude and your perception of any given situation. A positive, friendly attitude can lead to others being kind. It simply multiplies itself. If someone is nice to you, you feel like you should be nice to someone else, and so on it goes. You create a ripple effect of kindness.
There are countless ways to practice metta. Project kindness and avoid negative reactions. Opportunities await you every day, wherever you go.
By Kathi Duquette