This week I’m in personal retreat in the little cottage next to Ram Dass’s house. Like many beings, I love to be around him. He knows how to transmute suffering and radiate love, a blanket of love he wraps around the whole cosmos. He now teaches meditation by this simple instruction: Touch your heart gently and whisper to yourself with each intimate breath, “I am loving awareness.”
Decades ago, I was sitting a retreat with Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein, 6 weeks of metta (loving awareness) practice day and night. At the beginning my mind was filled with resistance to Joseph’s teaching style. It felt too different from the more flowing, poetic Zen practice that was my preference — and habit. Unloving thoughts arose, and I confessed, “This is not for me — too precise and architectural, too granular and detail-oriented.” Joseph said, “I’ve never told you anything like this before, but pretend I’m your guru — and just trust me.”
Okay, after working with children for years I know how to pretend. And I can suspend my aversion, if I’m only PRETENDING to trust him completely… I followed his instructions to the letter. What happened was an unfolding of new dimensions of metta meditation, unexpected and fulfilling in ways I’d never known before. I understood much more what’s possible for the human heart — for you and me — during that retreat with both teachers. Understanding is the foundation of love.
Lovingkindess, compassion, and joy protect our practice from devolving into dualistic self-surveillance, self-judgment mascarading as mindfulness. Clear, honest mindfulness is key to cultivating the trust we need to go beyond where we’ve ever been before. Even if we have to ‘fake it till we make it’ to real courage and trust. Ehipassiko, as the Buddha liked to say: “Come see for yourself.”
Image Credit: T. Goodman