If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with

Equanimity, feeling equal warm affection toward others, was my first favorite meditation and I still rely on it today to put me in a good mood whenever I need. If I am missing anyone in particular, this meditation is the best antidote. I may be using Stephen Still’s lyric in entirely the wrong context but it works for me:

“If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with!”

If I feel lonely, this meditation makes me feel connected again. If I am experiencing irritation, this meditation helps me see the person in a totally new light. If I find people uninteresting, if I look right past them, this meditation helps me see that they are lovable and worth paying attention to.

The strangling incident

After university, I did a year’s postgraduate certificate of education at another college in York, England, training as a secondary school teacher. I did this at the time mainly as I thought it’d be a soft option — I wanted an excuse to stay near Madhyamaka Centre and also delay an inevitable real grown-up job. However, it really was not a soft option. It was gruelling. It was like being a policeman, but without a gun. The class 4D was my most challenging. Another teacher accompanied me to my first lesson and, when I asked why, told me that it was to make sure they didn’t throw chairs around, as was their apparent habit with student teachers. Even getting them to stop talking was a major endeavor, let alone trying to teach them anything. One day I actually went over to one of the 15 year-old boys and, much to everyone’s surprise, including my own, I put my hands around his neck and started to strangle him…

Luckily I recovered my wits before he was dead, but this incident showed me how crucial it was that I developed equanimity as quickly as I could if I and my students were to survive the year. I needed an equal affection for everyone, not just the nice quiet girl at the back who never gave me a hard time, did her homework, and actually listened when I spoke.

Every morning before going to school I got up a half an hour earlier and did a meditation on equanimity. I used the one in Joyful Path of Good Fortune, and I would recommend it to anyone. You start by believing that in front of you are three groups of people or three individuals – on our  right, our current best friend, on our left our current object of annoyance, and in the middle someone in the checkout line, that is, anyone we’re not bothered with either way.

Pigeon-holes

At any moment in time, we are pigeon-holing people into these three categories. And they feel very real. Our best friend really is an inherently fabulous person, even if other people don’t get it; our enemy is inherently dreadful, even if their mother strangely seems to love them; and the stranger is just, well, inherently boring, even if they have kids and a dog who adore them.

Have you ever noticed that every friend you have today started off as a stranger, perhaps even as an enemy? And that is not even taking past lives into account. The fact that people are jumping from category to category every day, even every hour, and that even one person can jump into all three pigeon holes in the course of a day (e.g. our beloved/annoying/boring partner) usually escapes our attention. And as a result, at any given moment we are feeling attached, annoyed, or indifferent (a facet of ignorance). These myopic, self-seeking and unbalanced delusions are the cause of all our daily ups and downs, as well as all the racial, sexual, religious and cultural discrimination in the world today.

Life in Technicolor

But in the meditation on equanimity we bust everyone out of those rigid categories and develop an equal affection and warm feeling for all – like our affection for our best friend, the one we’re currently delighted to see. We bring everyone up to their level, we are not going for “bland” (and this point is clear if we understand that equanimity is the foundation for universal love and compassion.) As a result we start to have a fine time, really enjoying everyone we meet or think about, wherever we go.

Without equanimity the mass of other living beings appear annoying or, mainly, just plain dreary, and often as not in my way. It is like living in a black and white world, with just a few splashes of color for the people I happen to like at the moment. Meditation on equanimity transforms the entire world into brilliant beautiful technicolor.

Tuning into the way things really are

This meditation is in fact very powerful and profound because it tunes right into emptiness, the ultimate nature of reality. My teacher Geshe Kelsang gives as an example of emptiness the fact that Sheila can appear to three different people in entirely different ways – as beautiful, as evil, as tedious — so stand up the real Sheila! Of course she cannot, because there is no real Sheila.

I won’t explain the whole meditation here, not enough space, and it is beautifully presented in Joyful Path. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Postscript

I will always be grateful to Class 4D for being my experimental equanimity lab that year – our relationships improved as bit by bit and one by one I made friends with them (while acting tough too so as not to be eaten alive.) So dramatic was the overall change that when the examiner came in months later to observe me teach, Class 4D all sat as quiet as mice and behaved like such model students that I thought I had gone to a parallel universe. Thanks to this kindness of theirs coupled with their fearsome reputation, I passed my teacher training course with distinction!

If Tarra and Bella can be friends, might there not be hope for the rest of us?!