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Metta Comes Unstuck

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Welcome back, dear readers, to Metta’s Guest House, where Rumi’s poem by the same name meets metta meditation welcoming very real guests to an actual guesthouse in Liverpool, England.

Last month’s column, Hard Metta, left me on a somber note, curled up in bed feeling betrayed by coworkers and the company I was working for. My natural inclination to be the glue in any situation was coming unstuck.

As I generated metta for myself, I calculated the days I still had to work to honor my contract and waited for the right moment alone with my manager to give my week’s notice.

I bore no ill feeling toward her personally, but every fiber of my being just wanted out of the job with a knee-jerk impatience that was very uncharacteristic of me. It was not an easy conversation to initiate and, when she texted during my next nightshift to ask if I would be willing to work another hour in the morning so that she could sleep in, it didn’t bode well.

My manager came in uncharacteristically quietly the following morning, looking pale and drained. I offered to make her a coffee and asked how she was. She actually began to shake, saying she’d had two panic attacks the previous day and was starting therapy. My heart went out to her fragility, yet my mind felt oddly soothed that I wasn’t imagining the tense workplace atmosphere of late. My heart hesitated in abandoning this sinking ship, yet my mind was already on the deck with both lobes outstretched, ready to dive.

It turned out that I had passed my probationary period automatically, without higher management bothering to inform us, and so I would have to work another four weeks rather than just the one week I had assumed! I’ll admit, the thought of another month felt like a life sentence in the moment, and all I could do was surrender to trusting the Dharma’s timing. With a little humor and a lot of metta, I can usually make the most of any life situation. This, however, felt like the closest I’d ever come to a real-life bardo.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Rumi, The Guest House

Not long after, a possible reason for the delay presented itself: Liverpool was preparing to unveil its city center Christmas events in mid-November, with enough hoopla to make up for December 2020. The city had booked four of our apartments for street performers to prepare themselves, and it was fun to watch the everyday people who checked-in re-emerge a few hours later as jolly singing Christmas elves.

I hunkered down behind reception to get through what I predicted would turn into a rowdy Friday night, when two members of the city’s security team stopped by to ask if we had any cheap rooms for the night.

They explained that a woman had barricaded herself in the public toilets nearby and was refusing to come out because of the domestic violence she was facing at home. The security team wanted to give her some breathing space to decide on her next steps. My heart went out to her, yet my mind was stumped as we were truly fully booked—there was quite literally no room at the inn.

Then I remembered the abandoned dressing rooms—technically paid for by the same city employing the security team—and sent our guard to ascertain which room had been left in the best state to welcome an unexpected guest. When he returned with his choice, the woman was already waiting in reception, shaking and talking non-stop with nerves. I rummaged through the staff kitchen to see what we could offer her by way of breakfast, and reemerged poetically with bread, milk, and honey. In the Christian tradition, the promised land after death is often referred to as the land of milk and honey.

Before the security team escorted her to the selected apartment, I assured the woman that she could call or visit reception any time she felt the need overnight, and that I would add a free late check-out for maximum time out from her very real life. I never heard from her again, and I just hope she got a good night’s sleep while the Dharma worked its magic.

I left handover notes for the day staff to please handle her with care at check-out, yet we’ll never know the outcome. Hopefully, providing unexpected metta and bardo gave her enough breathing space to come even the tiniest bit unstuck from circumstances that were clearly hurting her.

Back under the duvet of my own bardo, I discovered the day before that I really could walk away from the job. I found out that the coworker who had put in the grievance in against me was applying to be promoted to assistant manager! Weeks of wondering if I was imagining things and second-guessing myself came into clear focus: the accusation had been nothing but a way to take out someone they felt was their biggest threat. Compassion flooded through me both for myself and for him. I could declare myself innocent in the face of hours of cross-examining myself, and could only imagine being so insecure in my own abilities to have to pull a stunt like that. I worked my final shift with the quiet confidence that while my decision to quit made sense to no one but me, I was making the right decision for both my heart and my head. I silently blessed the scheming coworker and walked away early the next morning, feeling lighter than I had in weeks.

Soon afterward, four other members of the team confessed that they were not far behind me. I had to chuckle at how quickly karma was catching up with the scheming, as at this rate there would no longer be anyone left to actually manage let alone keep the guesthouse open.

It took the Dharma exactly 48 hours to place me elsewhere. Regular readers may remember I spent this time last year delivering parcels to university students isolating during lockdown, as described in Metta Delivers. I returned for a week to play Christmas elf, helping to deliver the Black Friday and Cyber Monday overflow. It did my soul the world of good to feel welcome wherever I went, and it was beyond heartening to witness the students blocks full of noise and laughter and cheeky decorations after 2021’s collective bardo.

Liverpool student halls. Image courtesy of the author

And so, dear readers, whatever person or place or politics may currently be the fly in your personal milk and honey, please give yourself all the metta and bardo needed to come unstuck from where your glue is no longer welcome and wait for where it will be needed again in 2022.

Related features from BDG

Dangerous Dharma
We Are the Flowers in the Garden
Anam Thubten Rinpoche On Non-attachment, Being a Buddhist Gypsy, and Impermanence
Buddhistdoor View: The Dharma of Unemployment

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