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?!

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 35 years' experience, I write about applying Buddhist meditation to our everyday lives. I try to make it accessible to everyone who wants more inner peace, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

7 thoughts on “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with”

  1. Hi Luna, thank you for sharing about that incident. I’ve had a lot of difficulties in my life due to my anger and sometimes I feel as though I can never overcome it, like i’ve crossed some imaginary line that I can never cross back over. I got a chance to hear you teach in NYC not too long ago and it’s difficult to imagine that anger had such a hold on you at a point in your life, and it gives me a lot hope to hear you share something like that, because I have a feeling you do not struggle with anger like that anymore. I absolutely love lay teachers like yourself in our tradition, for some unapparent reason I’m more open to hearing teachings from you guys.Thank you for dedicating your life to such an amazing cause.

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  2. I really enjoyed this post! Right now I am in the eleventh hour of the tax deadline and I have three piles of tax returns on the table next to my desk. Ones that are for people i like a lot and will do anything I can to get the returns out to them on time. Then I have the very annoying clients, who i still love a lot, but they are so bad a being organized, and then the returns in the middle. Now that I think about it, I don’t know why I put these returns in a middle pile. I know, must have been past life experiences!

    I can’t get them all finished by Monday the final day for filing. After reading your post i have to change my three pile system to one of 1) urgency of the situation 2) then will they have to pay anything 2) By date all info. was submitted. Yes, I like this new way, think I’ll call it “Equanimity Triage for the Tax Man” I feel better now!

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  3. haha I’m glad you didn’t employ those tactics with your FP group!
    How beautiful is it to see all living beings as friends? I did a little excercise with a school visit recently using a large bowl filled with glass beads; the beads representing the 540 kids in their school. On average they said they had about 7 friends, so I made a little pile of 7 beads on the table. They had about 3 people they didn’t like, so there was a small pile of 3 beads for those. Then I turned to the still full bowl and said ‘but what about all these 530 people we never think about?’
    and then the kids said they’d move the beads from one group to another anyway, depending on what people did and how they were feeling. They all decided that it would be much nicer to just put all the beads back in the bowl; ie to decide that everyone was their friend. So we ended with a meditation on the feeling that every single person in their school was their friend. It was so beautiful!

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  4. Thanks Luna, while i was reading your article i was smiling all the time… look at the past and all my myopic minds… and of course the present too. Equanimity is a treasure mind… we should try to develop all the time… as you said… it is crucial to do it …if we want to be happy…

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