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Lions Roar : November 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2008 26 more as it is right now. Here too we find the power of kindness, because we can connect to things as they are. Making the effort to truly see someone doesn’t mean we never respond or react. We can and do attempt to restore a failing marriage, or protest at loud cell phones in public places, or try with everything in us to rectify injustice. But we can do it from a place that allows people to be as textured as they are, that admits our feelings to be as varied and flowing as they are, that is open to surprises—a place that listens, that lets the world come alive. One essential step in learning to see each other more genuinely is to bother to look. If some- one yells at us, or annoys us, or dazzles us with a gift, we do pay attention to them. Our challenge then is to see them as they are, not as we project or assume them to be. But if they don’t make much of an impression on us, we have a different challenge: it is all too easy to look right through them. In particular, the meditation exercise of offering loving-kindness (metta) to a neutral person confronts our tendency to look through people we do not know. We choose a person whom we don’t strong- ly like or dislike; we feel, indeed, rather neutral or indifferent toward them. Very often it helps to select a near-stranger, or someone who plays a certain role or func- tion in our lives—the checkout person in the grocery store, for example, or the UPS delivery person. We may not know much about them, not even their name. When we send a neutral person loving- kindness, we are consciously changing a pattern of overlooking them, or talking around them, to one of paying attention to them. The experiment in attention we are making through these benevolent wishes asks of us whether we can practice loving “thy neighbor as thyself ” when we don’t know the facts about someone’s dependent, elderly parent, or at-risk teenager, and so our heartstrings have not been tugged. When we think of our neutral person, we haven’t learned the story of their sus- picious mole or empty evenings. We have no knowledge of their inspiring triumphs or their admirable philanthropy, and so we are not in awe of them. We aren’t see- ing their tension after a disappointing job interview, or their sadness after their lover leaves. We practice wishing them well anyway, not knowing any of this, but sim- ply because they exist, and because we do know the beauty, the sorrow, the poignan- cy, and the sheer, unalterable insecurity of existence that we all share. On trains and on the streets, in our homes and in our communities, we prac- tice paying attention—through developing mindfulness, through developing loving- kindness, through letting go of projec- tions—because a more complete attention proffers many special gifts. These gifts can penetrate through the exigencies of social roles and even through terrible hurt. They can remove the seeming hollowness of chance encounters. Paying attention in this way provides the gift of noticing, the gift of connect- ing. We find the gift of seeing a little bit of ourselves in others, of realizing that we’re not so awfully alone. We can let go of the burden of so much of what we habitually carry with us and receive the gift of the present moment. Through paying attention we learn that even when we don’t especially know or like someone, we are nonetheless in re- lationship with them. We come to realize that this relatedness is in itself like a vi- brant, changing, living entity. We discover the gift of caring, of tending to this force of life that exists between us, and we are immeasurably enriched by that. ♦ From The Kindness Handbook: A Practical Companion, by Sharon Salzberg. Published by Sounds True. © 2008 by Sharon Salzberg. We may not know them but we wish them well anyway, because we do know the beauty, sorrow, and unalterable insecurity of existence that we all share. SHAMBHALA SUN FOUNDATION SECOND ANNUAL ONLINE AUCTION OFFERING A SELECTION OF · original artworks · programs and events · retreats and vacations · books and audio · clothing and jewellry · gifts FEATURING OUTSTANDING WORKS SUCH AS THIS ORIGINAL CALLIGRAPHY BY THICH NHAT HANH COMING MONDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2008 Proceeds from this auction will support our move to environmentally responsible paper. The Shambhala Sun Foundation gratefully thanks our auction partners for their generous donations. SHAMBHALA SUN FOUNDATION An independent, nonprofit corporation. Publishers of the Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly. NOV 18-39.indd 26 NOV 18-39.indd 26 9/1/08 12:18:17 PM 9/1/08 12:18:17 PM