Friday, November 23, 2007

What Passes for Grace

It's a holiday, we're traveling, and we're staying with family. I'm having difficulty loving and accepting those closest to me.

No, really.

I tried a couple of little "grace" exercises over the last couple of days. I didn't know what else to do. At one point, it was either that, or swill a Bloody Mary at 9 a.m. on the airplane and fall asleep later at a critical juncture.

My husband tries his best to make everything orderly and safe for us when we travel, which is lovely, but I respond to his Travel Personality with disproportionate irritation and eye-rolling. (Yep, he loves that.) On the plane from Seattle to Boston, we were seated a row away from each other, me across and behind him. (He had both the kids, I had a sweet young couple beside me.) At a moment when I was really getting into my inner rant about Matt's Travel Personality, I experienced a crossroads. I thought, hmm, I can continue to sit here and feel tense abou how tense I think my husband is, or I can do something else. What happens if I try a little metta meditation* on him? So I stared at his broad shoulder wrapped in an olive green cotton sweater I bought for him five years ago, and I breathed in the suffering he might have been feeling then (tension, anxiety, annoyance at bitchy wife), and breathed back goodness and peace. I did this until a flight attendant began squawking over the loudspeaker.

Then, you'll never guess what happened: Matt got up and started dancing in the aisle!

Ok, not really. Since we didn't interact for awhile, I've no idea if he actually calmed down then. But I sure calmed down. And that made me nicer. So I was one less person on that plane thinking bilious, vile thoughts. I was one more person in the world meditating, which meant I was causing no suffering at that moment. And this was all practice for me in contacting compassion for someone else when I really didn't feel like it.

And then later, when I really felt compassion for him, I offered to trade seats.

*metta is a Buddhist technique of meditation in which the practitioner breathes in the suffering of another person and sends back something positive, like liberation. It's also called "loving-kindness" meditation. This is my primitive understanding.

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