The Path of Loving-Kindness
September 15, 2020
“Ultimately, loving-kindness is an equalizer and an antidote to hatred and aversion.”
– JoAnna Hardy
The morning is rainy again. Though we need sun on this mountain, I think of the wildfires raging on the West Coast and seek not to complain. I do pray that some of this rain goes to them even if we are in different airstreams. This morning I had tears leaking out my eyes as I looked at friends’ posts of escaping wildfires or hurricanes. Though I keep everyone (animals too) in my prayers for their homes and the safety of them and their loved ones, it is hard to feel so helpless as they suffer. Perhaps that is part of what loving-kindness is though, suffering WITH another so that no one is alone. It still feels helpless. Right now, life feels pretty helpless for most of the world I suppose as all people continue to fight COVID on top of life’s “normal” struggles.
Fortune and misfortune, good and bad—not everything is how it looks to your eyes. It’s not how you think it is either. We’ve got to go beyond fortune and misfortune, good and bad.
~Kodo Sawaki Roshi, “To You”
My prayers, well, how does a human pray fully in times like these? When I say fully, I mean thinking about the tragedies that we face in life and what a person might actually need. Sometimes that’s easy to see because we have been through a similar life event…though “easy” might not be how the prayer need feels. Sometimes, prayers are seen only as empty words spoken by a sincere or insincere heart. Yet, when we understand prayer in its truest form, prayer moves us to action. Yes, the prayer may start with words, but in order for it to be a prayer of the heart, one must also listen. Then, after listening, move forward.
Sometimes it seems we are listening to a silent god. In times of great tragedy or trauma, that silence may cause us to feel or think there is no god at all, no one listening. Then there are days when answers to prayers occur before you even find ways to articulate the fear, pain, or concern. Those are the times we wait for in prayer. Though we could be ideally more patient in our waiting, as modern humans, waiting is harder and harder in life. The waiting for a vaccine of COVID is our waiting now. Meanwhile, the world’s tragedies cause us anxiety and fear making the waiting even more difficult.
While making a new friend, I am sad to say that I let my fear of being scammed motivate my responses twice more than I wish. In my life, my work, my art, music, writing, my goal is always to find ways to spread loving-kindness. Although I have my faults as a human, those weaknesses are not to be embraced as an excuse for bad behavior. I talk to life-long, trusted friends seeking to analyze and modify my trust of the unknown.
As I cried over my friends’ pains and fears, an email from a Buddhist magazine I follow came with this message:
Be a Force for Kindness, Mindfulness, and Positive Change
Compassion. Friendliness. Kindness. Love. These four virtues are the keys to a good life. It doesn’t matter who we are or where we’re from, or what religion we do (or don’t) practice. An open heart is universally understood to be a good, and powerful thing. (And couldn’t our world use more of that goodness and power right now?)
Buddhism offers us many methods for empowering ourselves to cultivate our open-heartedness. The Buddhist approach to living with more kindness and love is very proactive and very simple:
If our “kindness muscles” are underused or undeveloped, the solution is to use them more.
So, there are Buddhist teachings and meditation that can help us do that—regardless of what we believe in or where we are in our lives. By practicing them, we can do something about our all-too-common feelings of isolation and disconnection from one another, and from ourselves. We begin to see how closed hearts and closed minds go together, and that we can instead enjoy a life that’s decidedly more open.
As with physical exercise, it can feel good. And the more we do, the easier it gets. But first, we have to get started….
—Rod Meade Sperry, Editorial Director, Lion’s Roar Special Editions
This newsletter information is as good as some of the other things posted on the magazine’s webpage if you have time to review that. The message the Editorial Director sent was one I needed to hear especially today. Not because I forget the power of loving-kindness but living alone during a quarantine begins to take its toll on a person. Also, as I get older, like those elders before me, many of us feel invisible and ineffective.
A friend from my seminary days posted some words of encouragement yesterday. Ursula M. has always been an ambassador of love for me and for others. I told her I felt like I was the biggest failure of all to go through St. Stephen’s Vicar program. She reminded me of my willingness to talk with the church and the people about what it meant to be an open and reconciling congregation after I came out. Her message reminded me of something a seminary friend had once said, “We must remember that all we are doing is planting seeds.” Her words came as we discussed the challenges of ministry and never seeing “results” in a world that demands RESULTS that are quantitative, not necessarily qualitative.
The world of faith, practice, prayer, and loving-kindness is about the quality of the love. I always quote Frederick Buechner’s understanding of love as working for each other’s well-being as well as working for our own well-being. It is only when working for the well-being of each creature is taken into consideration, and then, the best act chosen for all who are involved, it is only then that we are being intentional in our love.
Love is not merely a word. Yet, it is thrown around as though speaking the word actually means something. That word is often used to manipulate another or even to sell a product. I’m sure in the second half of that sentence you could hear some commercial starting from memory. The first half of the sentence may have caused your heart to ache as you remembered a time when you were manipulated by someone claiming love when in reality it was only a tool used to force you to comply.
One of my favorite Van Morrison songs, “Enlightenment”, has lyrics where he admits honestly that he doesn’t know what enlightenment is. Why? Because there is so much information out there that sometimes it’s unclear what we are to process. Also, each one of us must find OUR OWN PATH through life. Morrison wrote that song before we had the prevalence of social media as we currently know it. Will we ever truly know what enlightenment is? That is another point I think he’s making. All we can do is keep working at enlightenment or allowing another’s truth to exist even if it doesn’t work for us.
Love. As much as I’ve sought to be loving and kind in my life, I might need to adapt Morrison’s lyrics to say, “Love…or loving-kindness…don’t know what it is.” Why? Because each time I think I’ve grown in love, mercy, compassion, or my understanding of how it works together with justice, I find other ways that I am not loving or kind. All I can do is admit my error, admit my defeat, but get back up and walk on in love. Just because the world seems cruel and harsh doesn’t mean that love is gone or that loving-kindness has disappeared. We warriors of love and peace simply must continue to stand and remember to rest when we are weary, but never give up. Never. Love is always the goal, the path, the destination. Learn as we go. May that be enough.