Last weekend, I was struggling to roll up a garden hose for storage when I thought of my dad. I remembered watching him so many times cuss and fight to try to force his hose into a neat circle just like I was doing. I had to laugh. He was either delivering a message to me from the other side about a lesson he didn’t really learn while he was alive, or it was the Universe speaking.
Either way, I got it. Relationships are like garden hoses. You can cuss and fight to try to shove them into the perfect coils you want them in, or you can stick with the awkward rolling and do the best you can.
My relationship with my dad was complicated, as most close relationships are. I adored him. Yet, our belief systems were very different. He was quite conservative and became increasingly so as he aged. Which was fine with me, except that after my daughter was born, he was determined to make me conservative so that I would raise her in a way that he thought best. He emailed me, then snail-mailed me numerous newspaper editorials, and when we talked on the phone or were together, he would lecture me. This frustrated me, as I was at the beginning of my spiritual journey and lacked the words and confidence to make my case.
But he was also charming and funny and loving because people are not one-dimensional. If he were alive today, I would have a strong case to make if he wanted to listen. I would also employ a practice I recently reacquainted myself with: the Buddhist “metta” or loving kindness meditation.
There are several variations to the meditation, but here is how I have practiced it. Sit quietly and begin directing your breath to your heart space with an intention of opening your heart. Starting with yourself, you say or think, “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I live with ease.” Then you send these heartfelt wishes to someone you love dearly. Then to someone you feel neutral toward, then to someone you find difficult, then to the world at large.
I have been using the meditation as a sort of mantra lately. When I find myself triggered by something a person says or how they are behaving toward me, I mentally repeat, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you live with ease.” It reminds me that separation and control are illusions and that it is 100 percent my choice whether I will be a victim to someone else’s actions.
The reason I reacquainted myself with the practice is that I read about it in the book, “Why Woo-Woo Works” by David R. Hamilton Ph.D. The book dives into the science behind alternative healing practices such as mediation, energy healing, crystals and more. Yes, the science–so exciting!
Hamilton says scientific studies have shown that loving kindness practices exercise regions in the brain associated with empathy, compassion, happiness and joy, among them the insula and medial prefrontal cortex. Just like what happens when you exercise a muscle, these brain regions grow in size and power with repeated practice. So, my chosen mantra to help me wrestle with relationships actually makes me a more compassionate and joyful person.
Spiritual teachers have taught us for eons that the times when we want to close our hearts to protect ourselves are the times when we need to open our hearts even more. And although I believe this is true, it is also quite difficult. The metta mediation is a start for me. I can do that. Later, I may be able to open my heart a bit more. In the meantime, perhaps I’ll direct some loving kindness toward my uncooperative garden hose.