We’re almost two weeks into this 100 Days of Lovingkindness, but even after just five or six days the quality of my experience was radically different from usual.
I’ve felt considerably happier than I normally do. Blissfully happy, often. I’ve been much more patient with my children. I’ve been buffered from things that would normally press my buttons. I’ve been cocooned in lovingkindness.
To give you an example, last week I dropped my beloved iPad mini as I was putting it into my bag to head to work. I didn’t notice until I actually arrived at the office, but there was a huge crack right across the screen. Normally I’d feel sick about something like this, partly because the device is something I enjoy using and I’d hate to see it marred, and partly because the repair bill on something like that is very high. But when I saw that the screen was cracked I just thought, “Oh, well” and continued with my day. I had no sense of being upset by it at all.
Another example: last night I came down with a migraine, having had a headache building all day. I’d just been spending too much time on the computer — all these 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts! — and hadn’t been taking enough breaks or being careful enough about my posture. So I had a horrible headache and waves of nausea flooding my body. And my wife was away for the evening so I had to put the kids to bed. After they were asleep I went to lie down in bed and started to turn toward the pain. I noticed these pulses of pain and waves of nausea, and sent them lovingkindness. And then to my surprise I found that I was experiencing a powerful sense of joy, and even had waves of pleasurable energy (pīti) flowing up and down my back. That’s not something I’ve ever experienced with a migraine before, although I have had them diminish or vanish entirely when I’ve meditated with them.
And the surprising thing is that it’s not like I’ve been doing anything like retreat-level amounts of meditation. I’ve been doing perhaps a bit more than 90 minutes of meditation (including some walking metta bhavana) on a good day, and only 30 minutes on my busier days.
My life hasn’t been 100% positive. I felt a bit irritable yesterday as the migraine was building, although by the time it was a full-blown attack I was no longer feeling that way. Early in the day the irritability flared up a little when one person online responded to me with what I saw as passive-aggressive communication, and when another couple of people seemed to be taking pleasure in seeing a child being humiliated, but I decided just to extricate myself from those conversations and not look back. It was easy to let go of my irritable thoughts.
On the whole it’s been one of the most joyful periods I’ve had in my life, outside of some retreat experiences.
Partly this is due, no doubt, to consistency of practice. By the time you read this I’ll have done 199 continuous days of meditation, and just before 100 Days of Lovingkindness began we’d finished the 100 Day Meditation Challenge. I think that really “primed the pumps” emotionally.
What’s really surprised me, though, is that I normally make an effort to be mindful in daily life. Mindfulness has a buffering effect on us, too. And I’ve been putting no more effort into practicing and developing lovingkindness than I usually put into practicing and developing mindfulness. So I can only conclude that lovingkindness practice brings about a much greater degree of emotional resiliency than mindfulness practice alone. Although it’s not a very fitting analogy, you get more “bang for your buck.”
I’m guessing that the reason for this is that mindfulness is like hoeing your garden and keeping it weed free, while lovingkindness is like planting seeds and growing flowers. It’s not enough simply to prevent negative states from arising, you need to cultivate the positive. I know this, of course. I’ve known it for a long time. But it’s very rewarding to see this truth illustrated in my own life.