It astonishes me how much time I spend making judgements about people, but the truly surprising thing is that although it makes me feel bad, I keep doing it. And it leads to unfortunate interactions with people which ends up causing them suffering too.
One thing that protects us against this kind of self-imposed suffering is lovingkindness (metta) practice. Lovingkindness is an important complement to mindfulness practice.
To cultivate metta we can do something as simple as repeat to ourselves, “May you be well; may you be happy” as we see others. We can do this while walking or driving, for example.
We can take a more reflective approach to cultivating lovingkindness. I often consider the truth of the following statements:
- I want to be happy;
- I don’t want to suffer;
- I often find happiness elusive;
- I find suffering hard to avoid.
I drop these thoughts in one at a time, giving myself time to feel their reality on an emotional level. And then I allow the part of me that wants me to be happy to wish myself well — basically allowing a sympathetic attitude toward myself to emerge. Somehow recollecting that it’s a difficult thing to live a human life allows me to be more tender, and to be more caring and appreciative of myself.
Then I can apply the same thoughts to another person: This person wants to be happy; he/she doesn’t want to suffer; he/she often finds happiness elusive; he/she finds suffering hard to avoid. I find that quite naturally I want to “root for” this person as they do this difficult thing of living a human life. I want them to be happy.
This might sound a bit complex, but it isn’t really. The important thing is to give yourself time to let the thoughts have some emotional reality. With a little practice these reflections can be done in a few seconds, and having been thought about in a conscious way, they can then remain in the back of our minds, having a positive effect on our attitudes to others without needing to be consciously articulated.
This is something that I do at the start of each stage of my lovingkindness (metta) meditations. It’s also something I do during my daily activities. It makes lovingkindness practice much more real and effective for me.