Welcome back to the Living Metta laboratory of life, taking metta off the meditation cushion and out into the world.
Some backstory before we launch into this month’s experiment: A few years ago, a friend and I were comparing notes on how much of our lives we spent waiting for (fill in your favorite attachment here) to “happen” and how mean we could be to ourselves in the meantime. We jokingly coined the term “kindtime” as a reminder that when we didn’t know what was next it was time to be kinder—not meaner—to ourselves while waiting.
By now, most of you will have experienced some form of quarantine measures, depending on where you are in the world. At the time of writing this, I’m entering week six of sheltering in place alone in Liverpool. The days leading up to the UK’s official lockdown on 23 March were chaotic to say the least, with all sorts of conflicting reports and advice and responses swirling around. It was impossible for anyone to know what to think or whom to trust or what to do then (or now).
Possibly the most clarity amid the chaos I found was while listening to an interview with spiritual teacher and author Matt Kahn. He described everyone in the entire world suddenly finding ourselves at a meditation retreat we never signed up for, needing the bathroom during a group sit, and the organizers locking us in the toilet for the rest of the retreat.
I laughed so hard I cried, remembering all the times I had talked people down off their inner ledges locked in toilets! One of my previous articles, Metta, Tried and Tested, compared managing Vipassana 10-day courses with invigilating university exams. My approach toward anxious “bolters” was hopefully more Mary Poppins than Metallica, but Matt’s quip coupled with the first few panicked conversations I had with friends and strangers entering lockdown found me wondering what ways metta might help convert meantime into kindtime while we all waited behind locked doors.
It was heartening to see how quickly and creatively random acts of everyday kindness balanced out the latest news headlines. And how quickly mass meditations gained popularity. But how kind were we really being to ourselves behind locked doors? And so I decided to experiment treating myself and all those I came into contact with just as I would treat a scared student in need of kindtime in this meanest of meantimes.
Remember, kindness is contagious too.
UK city-dwellers are currently allowed out for an hour of exercise a day, which is just enough time for an early morning walk through my local park to start the day. By now, I know every dog I pass by name, and giving them a good ear scratch and their humans an unexpected compliment probably brings me more comfort than it does them. A friend who now has to get their prescription medication delivered was telling me that they phoned the pharmacy to say thank you for literally going the extra mile these days, and the manager burst into tears.
Remember, appreciation is contagious too.
I always love having fresh flowers in the house and buy any unexpectedly available in the grocery store these days when I spot some. I also love surprising any friends within walking distance by leaving a few in a glass on their doorstep, as I doubt any of us ever outgrow the thrill of maybe—just maybe—having a secret admirer. Recently, someone reciprocated by leaving a box of chocolates on my doorstep.
Remember, surprise is contagious too.
Kindtime in my quarantine kitchen translates into cooking every meal from scratch these days and being creative with limited ingredients. I’ve also started shopping for neighbors who aren’t allowed out at all due to underlying health conditions. Some of the funniest conversations I have these days are when, wandering store aisles, I phone them to see how we can replace requested items and suddenly I find myself giving meal advice to complete strangers who are curious to try one of my made-up-on-the-spot recipes.
Remember, laughter is contagious too.
My actual meditation practice in the kindtime has been made-up-on-the-spot too . . . most recently in my hammock! Considering how everything about our daily lives feels so up-in-the-air while we all wait for next inner and outer steps to become clearer, generating metta for all sentient beings suspended a few inches off the ground instead of seated firmly on it is paradoxically hugely anchoring.
Remember, comfort is contagious too.
But most importantly of all, I take hold of my own hand when feeling any of the 101 emotions that a day in lockdown can trigger: one breath, one step, one kindness at a time is how any and all of us are going to see this meanest of meantimes through.
Remember, self-compassion is contagious too.
And so, my fellow metta-scientists, please do what you can Met(t)allica-style to observe quarantine kindtime behind locked doors in the coming weeks. Or, to metta-morphose one their biggest hits, Nothing Else Matters:
Trust I seek and I find in you
Every day for us, something new
Open mind for a different view
So close, no matter how far
Couldn’t be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are
No, nothing else metta