How This Got Started
There were two triggers for the meditation/loving kindness journey I have travelled this year. The first was my decision to take a course in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Meditation and loving kindness tie together because meditation teachers constantly stress the need for loving kindness.
The second was a psychotherapist, who found in my behavior some indications of unresolved trauma. I called my friend Jim, a Vietnam vet who is an expert on many things, including trauma and avocados.
“How could I carry this trauma around for 40 years and not know it?” I asked him.
“Simple, Paul. You knew it; you just didn’t want to face it.”
Why I Cared
When my last pre-Vicki relationship broke up in 1977, I was devastated. The depression lasted for months. I ended up hating the woman. I was sure I had moved on, but it seems I carried that hatred around for 40 years of happy marriage.
As Vicki and I neared our 40th wedding anniversary in January, it occurred to me that a small sliver of my heart, a paltry piece of my soul, had been missing. I felt that wasn’t fair to my loving wife.
Hatred Is Like Drinking Poison
As I began looking into to the corrosive effects of hatred, I made a pair of discoveries. Therapists have a saying. I know this because one said it to me, and the other two finished it before I could get to the end of the sentence: “Hate is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” Some attribute it to Buddha, but that attribution appears to be apocryphal.
Hatred Is A Sin
I am a nominal Episcopalian, but well-educated enough to know that we share much of Catholic theology. I discussed hatred with my Episcopalian minister and with my Catholic friends. I also looked it up in an online Catholic encyclopedia.
They all agreed. There are two kinds of hate. It is OK to hate a person’s actions, but not the person:
(odium inimicitiae, or hostility) aims directly at the person, indulges a propensity to see what is evil and unlovable in her, feels a fierce satisfaction at anything tending to her discredit, and is keenly desirous that her lot may be an unmixedly hard one, either in general or in this or that specified way. This second kind of hatred, as involving a very direct and absolute violation of the precept of charity, is always sinful and may be grievously so.
I decided I needed to eliminate the hatred from my heart. I don’t enjoy drinking poison, and while I am not a big believer in sin, as I approach the end of life (nothing specific; just we all approach the end of life all the time) I’d rather reduce my sin load.
I used prayer, and my heterodox psychotherapists used EMDR, brainspotting and Soul Retrieval (you can look them up) to resolve the hatred and trauma. A Crystal Bowl concert was also surprisingly helpful (look up Crystal Bowl healing); instead of my usual reaction of falling into a deep sleep, I had a healing vision about getting over the hatred. And, by means I think I’ll keep to myself for now, my heart chakra was opened. Suddenly, I found that where there was hatred and anger towards the people I felt had wronged me, there was love.
There was also an extraordinary element. I was still in touch with that last lover, albeit had never told her of my hatred. I asked for her forgiveness for the fact that I hated her for 40 years. She granted it. She then asked for my forgiveness for the way our affair ended. I granted it. I found this exchange of forgiveness extremely helpful. I recommend it.
In sum total, the universe led me to understand the importance of giving loving kindness to myself and others.
Loving Kindness: Definition
For those of you unclear on the meaning here is the definition from Wikipedia (lightly edited): “Maitrī means benevolence, loving-kindness, friendliness, amity, good will, and active interest in others. It is the first of the four sublime states of Buddhism. … The compassion and universal loving-kindness concept of Metta is discussed in the Metta Sutta of Buddhism.”
More simply, to me it involves empathy, compassion and warm feeling towards those I have loved, love and will love, as well as the whole rest of the world.
Disclaimer: the me from six months ago would have swollen with pride at these acts and new feelings. But I have come to understand the corrosive effect of pride. I pass on these stories, not for self-aggrandizement, but in the hopes they will encourage someone, someday, to go down the same very satisfying path I have chosen, and perhaps to offer loving kindness to a stranger..
Loving Kindness: Surprising Story
During our epistolary courtship of nine months between June 1978 and April 1979, Vicki and I exchanged several hundred phone calls and letters. I found a cache of a few dozen of the letters earlier this year and typed them up. I invite you to imagine how flabbergasted I was to read this paragraph written at a time when I didn't know Buddha from Buck Rogers
July 17, 1978
I know I cannot be made happy; only I can make myself happy. But it would be an easier task if I had some outlet for what I have always felt (despite the disagreement of some others) was a great deal of warmth and loving kindness. I guess, for the time being, you’ll be getting a lot of it.
I don't consider this a sign of particular brilliance on my part. Although loving kindness is a profound concept, it is also one that is apparently there for everyone to discover in their own way. While I used the term in July 1978, I didn't really discover what it meant until I started my mindfulness practice.
Loving Kindness: Amazing Story
Recently, when I wonder if I am doing God's work and evolving in my understanding, I retell myself this story from earlier in 2020.
Before the plague hit, I was in the hospital for an procedure. The 6-foot-tall female nurse apologized to the patient next to me for being so "tall and gangly." Then she asked if I had any questions for the doctor. "Yes, ask him what is the meaning of life?"
"What do you think it is?" she responded.
"Giving loving kindness to yourself and others."
"That doesn't sound bad," she said. Then she sniffled.
Some instinct made me go on; perhaps the voice of God in my ear.
"I have just had a great experience with that. I hated a woman for 40 years, but since hatred is drinking poison while hoping the other person dies, I asked her to forgive me. She did, then surprised me and asked me to forgive her for the way she ended our affair. The day after we broke up I met my wife by introducing myself to the tallest woman in the room. We've been happily married for 40 years."
My breath was taken away when she sniffled, then told me, "I've been having a hard time. I needed to hear that story. Thank you."
Turns out I can give loving kindness to total strangers under rather unusual circumstances. Perhaps it will even happen more often.