My second attendance at Buddhism club consisted of a 20 minute reflection, discussion about Metta, then a 40 minute guided reflection. The first definition we received of Metta was love and kindness, but we went on to dig deeper. Metta is the idea that as humans, we crave connectedness to each other. Metta is the ability to feel empathy for another person. It is an attitude rather than something you feel. It is being friendly and showing others compassion. When there is no Metta, one feels ill will towards another person or is selfish. We should do our best to dissolve these feelings to make room for Metta.
A cool idea my facilitator brought up was that we do not have to fight negative feelings like ill will or our selfish needs, but merely let them go. It doesn’t have to be a war within you, where good is always fighting the bad. Innately humans want to be good, sometimes bad vibes just creep into our minds. Try to dissolve the negative feelings and thoughts. Don’t hold on to them and let them fester. Let Metta fill you up!
I have an anecdote that I think many can relate to that will help illustrate this idea.
Last week, I was sitting in a dining hall after finishing my breakfast, trying to get some last minute reading done before my next class. Next to me, a girl sat talking to her dad on the phone. She was complaining about a bad grade she had received. At first I tried to ignore the conversation, but found myself getting annoyed at her anger and frustrations.
She was overreacting. Her negative vibes were impending on my good ones. It was just one grade. Couldn’t she see that it didn’t really matter?
But then she proceeded to get even more worked up and started crying towards the end of their conversation. I felt badly and started to think that maybe I didn’t know the whole story. She could be having a really bad week. There was something that I did not know. I was judging her from one conversation. I was not in her shoes.
I thought back to the previous week, when I learned to center my thoughts with good intentions vs biased judgments, and I was doing the latter… So, after she hung up the phone, I made sure I wasn’t intruding, and asked if everything was ok. The obnoxious girl before my eyes transformed into a warm friendly person, and immediately said thank you, and that she knew she was getting worked up over nothing, but sometimes schoolwork just got to her. It was such a visible transformation and it really helped explain the idea of Metta to me. The annoying object that I had labeled was actually just another girl, like me, who sometimes overanalyzes the little things in life that don’t really matter. By letting go of my preconceived judgments, I allowed compassion in, to put myself in her shoes. For that small moment in time, us two strangers were connected by Metta.
When you reach out to others and show them compassion, you are acknowledging their worth, and their story as an individual. That is Metta. When you degrade them and label them as “obnoxious, annoying, or overreacting” you are not giving their person any value and do not give them a chance to tell their story. That is not Metta.
Just like anyone else, I struggle with managing frustration when people or things don’t go my way. But, by recognizing this, we can work at bettering our reactions.
So, the next time a stranger, friend, or loved one gets under your skin, try to dissolve the negative feelings you have towards them, and step in their shoes. A biased judgment, perspective, or stereotype is not necessarily untruthful, but it just doesn’t tell the whole truth. It also allows you to be a little bit more connected and receptive to whatever comes your way 🙂