“Your mind is like a piece of land planted with many different kinds of seeds: seeds of joy, peace, mindfulness, understanding, and love; seeds of craving, anger, fear, hate, and forgetfulness. These wholesome and unwholesome seeds are always there, sleeping in the soil of your mind. The quality of your life depends on the seeds you water. If you plant tomato seeds in your gardens, tomatoes will grow. Just so, if you water a seed of peace in your mind, peace will grow. When the seeds of happiness in you are watered, you will become happy. When the seed of anger in you is watered, you will become angry. The seeds that are watered frequently are those that will grow strong.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
One of my good fortunes in this life is to be raised in a family that loves the garden. I watched, helped, and learned from my grandfather and father my entire childhood. Not surprisingly, the garden has been a place of incredible refuge for me. I just love being in the dirt. When I first heard this teaching from Thich Nhat Hahn 15 years ago, it resounded through every fiber of my being. It brought such clarity to the metta practices or as Thich Nhat Hahn calls them, “the Love Practices.”
My garden here in New Orleans is known to be a rescue garden. I happily take in plants that are dying (according to others) and it brings me great joy to do my best to nourish them back to their glory. At a nursery or home improvement store you would find me in the section where the plants are marked way down or even being discarded.
It’s not lost on me that when the seeds of despair, overwhelm, self-deprecation, and sadness are currently flourishing in me, there are also seeds of loving kindness, compassion, and understanding.
These withering plants need to be watered with compassion.
My metta practice is intertwined in my daily life and every action. We would also call this engaged Buddhism. Engagement with the Dharma practices and life—not just sitting on a cushion or listening to Dharma talks. The practice on the cushion waters the seeds of lovingkindness and then we go out into the world.
As I move through my day, of course, there are life challenges. Some challenges are huge and others minor. Each difficulty, irritating person, or frustrating situation is a chance to practice (lucky us).
Let’s face it, we get a lot of chances to practice in a day.
My humble approach that I am working with was gifted to me by my spiritual teachers:
- First, I tune into the tightening in my body. My lower abdomen below my belly button gets very tight very fast when I get aggravated. With gentleness, I try to release the lower abdomen. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t. I just keep trying.
- Next, I ground myself by tuning into my breath. I guide it to go all the way down below my belly button or, if that isn’t working, I feel my feet on the earth. By grounding like this, I feel physically stable.
- Softening my heart comes next. My shoulders will move slightly forward to protect my heart. When I relax my chest and shoulders, it naturally opens the heart.
- The practice of just like me is next. I remember this irritating person is suffering and that suffering is pouring out into the world. It has nothing to do with me. I remind myself that we all suffer the same. We all say, think, and do things that aren’t skillful or nice. Sometimes we are downright mean. This awareness alone can lead to understanding—first ourselves, then others. Without understanding, there is no love.
For example, at Walmart late last night here in New Orleans, the weather was turning from the 70s to freezing.
People were scrambling.
One particular woman had two carts, seemed intoxicated in some way, and was rushing around ranting about finding a heater. Some people were offended and scattering to get out of her sight line. My instinct is to turn toward the suffering (for the most part).
This is where I ground and open my heart.
I knew where the heaters were so I offered to show her. She continued shouting about the heaters, calling for an employee like she was on fire. I again offered to show her. She was so ramped up it was like she was seeing through me. Hesitantly, with a little humor and a lot of gentleness, I offered again, trying to cool these flames of anger. She turned away and amped up the vulgarity and shouted louder.
It was such a gift to witness.
She didn’t want a way out; she was so far into her suffering that a resolution would diminish her deeper suffering. If I helped her, she would not be suffering from lack of help. Heartbreaking as it was to hold the space with her, I just hoped she would see a glimmer of compassion and understanding from me.
Whether she felt anything, though, is not why I did it. I’m healing myself. I’m practicing not turning away from difficulties.
The woman’s suffering is the same as all human suffering.
We all feel alone, unheard, and scared. It’s certainly not easy being a human being. It never was easy. This suffering woman in profound pain, what on earth were the causes and conditions that lead her to screaming and cursing in Walmart?
Unfortunately, she didn’t have the tools to help herself out of it.
There I was, with my precious human life with the great fortune of being able to practice the Dharma. And yet, just like her, I never know what causes and conditions may manifest that may lead to me screaming profanities in Walmart.
I just don’t know. None of us know. That’s why I practice diligently.
May she feel heard and seen.
May she be peaceful.
May she suffer less.
May she feel safe.
May she know real freedom and liberation.
And in the metta, deeper understanding is born.
May I feel heard and seen.
May I be peaceful.
May I forgive myself for the unskillful actions, words, and thoughts.
May I suffer less.
May all beings know true freedom and liberation.
Guest post by studio BE Senior Faciltator Sid Montz.
Deeply curious at heart, Sid Montz embodies and incorporates the lessons of his primary teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn, in all that he does. In his offerings, Sid likes to guide students through an empowering, lighthearted, and meditative practice, giving the students the opportunity to relax and reconnect to their true nature.