One of the most uplifting events of the last 5 months since Mirjam’s passing was the participation in a Metta/Loving Kindness retreat I attended at Te Moata. (temoata.org)
(See also: https://tricycle.org/magazine/metta-practice/ on Metta meditation)
The task of this silent 9 day retreat with Sister Veranani from Mnyanmar was to gradually develop an inclination of loving-kindness towards all beings.
We were invited to start with who it was easiest to feel loving kindness towards. Usually, one starts with oneself: “May I be well, happy and peaceful”, to wish this for myself. When I can feel this, I then extend this wish to people I respect and admire, like a spiritual teacher.
Next are people we love — our partners, dearest friends — who we visualise one by one as the recipient of our well wishes. This is then followed by neutral people, like those people who happen to live in the same neighbourhood, people who happen to sit the same retreat, our acquaintances.
The next stage is considered the hardest one, as we turn our attention to people who have harmed us — our enemies, so to speak — or someone we have difficulties with. Once this is achieved, we can include all beings and wish them well. May all be well, happy and peaceful.
You could just say it without meaning it, but it works only when you can feel it in your heart. And this takes time, feeling inward and sensing your heart. Doing a silent retreat for 9 days allows for this time. Visualising each person in front of me, connecting with my heart, I repeat this phrase over and over again, until I can feel it, and it becomes an experience, not just words.
What I found interesting was the fact that it was not easy for me to even start with myself. I had too many unexpressed feelings. In the silence of the retreat, there were many opportunities to go over and over my last weeks and months with my beloved. I tortured myself with thoughts of what I should or could have done differently, how it should or could have been. It is a form of craziness, I know that, since it takes me out of my reality and enters a mere hypothetical construct devoid of any reality. Knowing this didn’t change this form of self-torture.
Especially at night, I would keep myself awake going over old ground, over and over again. When I shared this in an interview with Sister Veranani, she gave me a useful advice that worked:
“Imagine you are sitting in a railway station, and the thoughts are like trains that come and go. You do not need to jump on any of these trains. Just observe.”
Eventually I recognized that going back into the past was simply an expression of the denial phase in a grieving process. It was a way of not wanting to face the truth that Mirjam had died.
As Byron Katie said in Loving What Is, “When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time.”
Honouring my limitations, my humanness, it became easier to develop loving kindness towards myself, to forgive myself and to trust that I did what I knew was the best at the time. I surrendered to reality — to what is and what was.
It was easy to extend my well wishes to people I respect, to dear friends and to the ones I felt neutral towards. The next obstacle was to extend loving kindness to people who I had felt hurt by.
In stressful times, like when a close person is in a state of dying, it brings out the best or the worst in people. Instead of being there for one another and offering support, some people around me at the time added to the stress I was feeling. What was missing was respect for me and my vulnerability. Their insensitivity made a very difficult situation sheer unbearable for me.
I was concerned about the rising stress level that must have been painful to my dying beloved, and chose to pull back. One of the last things that Mirjam asked of me was not to talk badly about other people, to not backbite. She must have been aware of my predicament.
I tried my hardest, yet the feelings of grief combined with anger about injustices that I perceived led me to express my struggles to poor friends who eventually got tired of my ranting and raving. I had such a built-up reservoir of emotions. By now, I have compassion for myself and understand that this, too, was part of my grieving process — the anger phase.
Yet, the most important lesson that I learned was not to confuse loving-kindness with pleasing. It is wonderful to develop loving-kindness for all beings. This is a way to open my heart. In the end, the benefits are mostly for me, whereas holding on to grudges only hurts me.
In the past, I had believed to be kind meant to be pleasing at all times to people, a mode that I had been conditioned in. Real kindness, however, comes from a place of strength, a place of feeling your soft, gentle power. Pleasing behaviour on the other hand is based on weakness. It is a form of manipulating people to like me. It comes from a place of insufficient self-love. As a pleaser I might seem kind to others, yet I am not kind to myself. Authentic kindness needs to come from within, from a place of abundance, of overflowing love.
Now I know that I can be kind and the well-wisher of all beings and have clear boundaries. No longer do I need to do it right by other people’s expectations. When I love myself, I feel sure in myself and no longer need to try to get from others what I refuse to give to myself.
Loving-kindness is powerless if it does not include me.
It was not easy to accept that Mirjam had gone for good. What made it harder still was that it brought up similar feelings of being lost, that I had experienced when both my parents died when I was only 16. A dear friend and healer mirrored this back to me, and helped me to forgive myself and to forgive others who were also stressed, leading me to finally accept the new situation in my life.
The powers of loving- kindness and forgiveness made it possible for me to regain a sense of reality and to begin moving on. Meanwhile, I keep creating a garden in memory of my beloved and talk to her in the spirit world. Occasionally, I get a reply from her, as I increase my intuition and notice signs.
“The spirit world is the real world. What we experience here is a mere shadow of reality. There are games that people play, ultimately it is not real.” An intuitive friend received this message from her grandmother after she had passed.
This message has given me a strong sense of relief. We can take little things so seriously and get bogged down in rigid thoughts that then become our reality. In the face of death everything else seems so insignificant. If the real world is ahead of me, I best prepare for it now by developing heart qualities, virtues that I can take with me to the spirit world. Honesty and truthfulness is asked for, as well as kindness and forgiveness.
My life is not complete yet. There is still a task in front of me. It will unfold in time, as I stay soft and gentle in accepting what is, inside of me and around me. I choose clarity over confusion, to see the obvious over wishful and self-deceptive thinking. And overall I trust in being guided and held in the divine.