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Metta Calls Shotgun

Welcome back, dear readers, to another month of taking metta off the meditation cushion and out into the world.

I don’t know about you, but exhausted doesn’t even begin to describe my current state, both physically and emotionally. The last month seems to have taken even the ultimate observers of life here on Earth by surprise!

Regular readers will know that I love to experiment with practical applications of metta, particularly how the microcosm of everyday life and the macrocosm of collective life often reflect each other.

This metta meditator also likes to be on a first-name basis with any elephants in the room.

And so, rather than skirt around or further fuel the macrocosmic events on everyone’s mind of late, I’m going to attempt to lighten the mood some with a humorous look at recent invasions and storms in my own microcosm.

Last month’s article described my arrival in a new town to start a new job after four years of living in Liverpool and seven years of lily-padding—what I like to call combining meditation practice with location-independence. It was quite a transition on all sorts of levels, particularly as I moved from one of the areas hardest hit by the pandemic to one of the most affluent areas of the UK. Wandering new streets, meeting new people, learning new work routines found me sometimes secretly wondering whether I’d dreamed 2020–21.

When my friend who helped me move and I rolled up to the staff accommodation in town after picking up the keys from the front desk at the private members’ club where I would start work later that week, we were both taken aback by the contrast: hushed, understated, old-world elegance versus abandoned ghost town frat house complete with tumbleweed garden.

My friend took one look around and offered to drive us both back to Liverpool, but my house-sitter instincts kicked in and I decided to stay and fill the property with some love.

Although the house sleeps six, I appeared to be the only occupant the next morning, and so I rolled up my sleeves to scrub the place down, from top to bottom, with a lot of elbow grease and metta. The kitchen alone took me a day, after I managed to fill a recycling waste container with empty beer bottles! 

On the morning of day two of The Great Metta Makeover, I heard unfamiliar noises downstairs. I went out onto the landing, and firmly asked that whoever was there identify themselves.

The noises just continued.

Confused as frankly there was nothing to steal—in fact they were most welcome to help themselves to the discarded items from past tenants!—I threatened to call the police if they didn’t tell me who they were. The noises still continued, so I grabbed the heaviest cooking implement I could now find from the newly cleaned kitchen, and headed downstairs to investigate.

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When we finally came face to face, I probably scared that day’s “intruder” more than he did me. It turned out that he was a member of a maintenance team that was repainting the ground-floor toilet. And was both deaf and mute. No one had told me that the work was being done, and no one had told him that anyone had moved in yet! We had a good laugh at the honest misunderstanding and, as his redecoration and my metta makeover progressed during that first week, we both admired each other’s daily efforts.

It was gratifying to donate bagfuls of abandoned belongings to the local charity shops, to return armfuls of coat-hangers to the local dry cleaner, to repatriate flatware and silverware to the club’s professional kitchen, and to recycle just about everything else the local council allowed. My bulky excursions piqued the interest of my new neighbors, who found all sorts of weird and wonderful ways to intercept me and sternly ask whether I intended to turn the place into a party house again.

The funniest confrontation found me carrying a banana box full of 80s and 90s music CDs—yes, really—on my way to the local Oxfam shop. My adjoining neighbor introduced herself and described 30 years of complaints—yes, really—over staff antics. I listened to her as patiently as I could without my arms falling off—for any readers old enough to remember, CDs by the boxful can get heavy—secretly tickled that she was in fact slowing down the eviction of the very soundtracks to some of those same complaints. Our conversation also explained why one whole inside wall of the house had an inch of soundproofing cladding.

I assured her that my idea of a good time was meditation, that I was a keen gardener, and—while I couldn’t predict who else would move in with me—I asked her to please let me know if anything I was doing in the house day-to-day disturbed her.

Between learning the new job and meeting new coworkers, my dear friend working in the pot wash—who had initially recommended me for the job—let me know that one of the chefs and his partner in reception had been asking her about me on the sly after they’d been allocated to the same house. They were worried that I was some kind of party animal!  She had a good laugh at my expense, and assured them I was truly sound—into crystals and plants and meditation.

I left a vase of daffodils and a funny card in the kitchen to welcome them on the day of their arrival, explaining that I’d gutted the kitchen so that our new resident chef could reorganize it to his liking. I returned home later to find him with tears in his eyes as no one had ever offered so warm a welcome!

It was clear without knowing the details that they’d struggled in their previous staff accommodation, so I sat them down for a frank discussion about how we could make this house a safe space for everyone, and gave them permission—as I’d been alone in the house until now—to tell me if anything I was doing day-to-day disturbed them.

We agreed on some ground rules, and even had some fun testing our noisiest habits, slapstick style. The chef had installed his “baby,” a proper Italian coffeemaker, in the kitchen, but was especially worried that he and his partner would wake me up in the morning as they both usually worked earlier shifts than me. I surprised him by asking him to brew up there and then, while I closed all the doors between his baby and my bed. I returned with a big grin, reporting that I couldn’t hear a blessed thing and, with our biggest cohabitation hurdle cleared, we set about creating our peaceful little haven.

So far so good in this tale of imagined invasions.

And then, one Monday morning after a restless night that I’d put down to the increasingly high winds outside, I opened my bedroom door to find my boss and two strange men standing on the landing. I’ll admit that my gut reaction to finding them all there wasn’t good, but I politely introduced myself. It turned out that the two men were father and son helping the son to move in, and also explained the random noises that had awoken me overnight.

I welcomed him, secretly wondering how comfortable a 21-year-old, abroad for the first time, would feel with housemates as old as his father . . . and not for a second did I guess that his arrival would spell the end of my normally sound sleep: at one stage of this saga, I actually went some 200 hours without sleeping. Nor could I have guessed that it would rupture the good relations I had established with new neighbors, housemates, and coworkers, damage the structure of the house, have HR accusing me of age discrimination when I tried to resolve the issue by asking if they could move him into the party house nearer the club and nearer his age, and, and, and . . .

Within 48 hours, any elephants in the room I had tried to befriend had turned into bulls in a china shop happily throwing a Greek wedding: our peaceful haven and my peaceful intentions became twisted into only the Dharma knows what, and I suddenly found myself triggering only the Dharma knows what in everyone with whom I came into contact, both at work and at home.

I quietly took generating metta for myself and all involved to Olympic levels, with all of the above going on above my head—literally and figuratively—while the sleepless nights gave me a chance to find every bit of citizen journalist news footage I could on the trucker convoys rolling out around the world . . . as well as witness all that their peaceful protest on behalf of all of humanity had triggered in others.

Dear readers, I so wish that this microcosmic invasion of my newest lily pad had led to some unexpected epiphany to help you laugh at or make sense of the current macrocosmic mayhem that we’re all facing.

But it hasn’t yet.

For now, all I can do is buckle up and let metta call shotgun as we roll into March. 

Or, to metta-morphose the lyrics of George Ezra’s “Shotgun”:

Home grown alligator, see you later
Gotta hit the road, gotta hit the road
Something changed in the atmosphere

Architecture unfamiliar
I could get used to this

Time flies by in the yellow and green
Stick around and you’ll see what
metta means
There’s a mountain top that I’m dreaming of
If you need me, you know where I’ll be

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