Welcome to another experiment in the Living Metta laboratory, taking metta off the meditation cushion and out into everyday life.
Regular readers of this column may remember a previous article—Giving Metta Legs—which included this photograph of “Be the light, Be the love” graffiti I stumbled upon while walking the streets of Liverpool for a parking survey:
I’m happy to report that it’s only one of many inspiring sightings since I moved to Liverpool two years ago thanks to Sine Missione, described as the Scouse (the local accent) Bansky. This anonymous street artist first felt moved to decorate a defaced electricity box at night, posing as a city worker, and carried on “lighting up” Liverpool from there. My favourite to date is this one (“boss” is the Scouse term for excellent):
Walking by it again the other day got me thinking about how embodying metta can light up others—to believe not only in the goodness of others but in the goodness of themselves too.
One of the most “boss” ways I’ve discovered for lighting others up in day-to-day conversation is asking them what is the best compliment they’ve ever received. Try it sometime and be prepared for a surprising answer! My own? An “ex” describing me as the most alive person he’d ever met with eyes and a heart big enough for the whole world. The loveliest part of recalling that compliment is that I doubt he remembers giving it and yet—some two decades later—it’s still alive and well within me.
Another boss way I played with for lighting others up is quite literally playing the Dharma’s undercover metta boss. Most readers will no doubt have enjoyed a fictional version of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper book or Eddie Murphy’s Trading Places life-swap plots? Or perhaps you’ve watched some version of the reality TV show where the boss of a company poses as a new starter? The fun part of embodying metta is that it can provide a similar role-reversing bottom-up authority, or rather give you new eyes to notice and reward the 101 small kindnesses that often go unnoticed in everyday life.
When I practiced this idea at a café and an optician’s office, I had no idea how quickly the power of a compliment would spread.
Having worked as a barista myself, I know just how challenging it can be and am always quick to notice someone who is a boss barista. Most cafés these days have a website, and with smartphones it’s the easiest thing in the world to write a quick compliment or favourable review when you receive boss service. I recently witnessed a young French man (still doing his best to master English) deal with a difficult customer with the patience of a saint, and decided to let his head office know what a gem they had working for them. On my next visit I discovered he’d been promoted! When I congratulated him, he grinned at me saying it was an anonymous email to his manager that had tipped them off.
Later that same day, I had a sight test at the local optician. What impressed me about my appointment was that this particular optician had all the time in the world for me despite the growing queue of impatient patients having to wait their turn, stretching nearly out the shop door. A quick email to the head office afterwards took less than 10 minutes to compose. When I went to pick up my new contacts a week later, rather than having to give my name at reception and wait, the receptionist grinned, got up immediately to hug me, and ushered me into the waiting area like a VIP. There was my email framed on the wall! She laughed, admitting it had made such a nice change from the complaints they usually received from head office. Apparently the optician was still grinning to himself every time he passed it. It seems carrots of every sort can improve our vision.
Perhaps the truest form of bottom-up playing undercover metta boss is remembering to compliment ourselves, especially when we’re going through challenging times.
A few years ago, I visited a friend in Nottingham for what I thought would be a week. When I discovered how depressed she was feeling, I ended up staying nine months (as described in a previous article, Home Truths). One of our private jokes from that phase was discovering this medal in a local shop:
We found it hilarious, bought it immediately, and would regularly award it to one another for simply making it through another day.
Back in 2019, I’ve been tracking a more humble form of undercover metta bossing. These anonymous notes are being left in public places like community noticeboards or these found on back of public toilet doors.
I doubt they took the artist more than a few minutes to create, and I can only imagine the number of souls they’ve lit up unexpectedly—especially if they were retreating to the toilet for reasons other than the obvious. I forward photographs of them to friends as I stumble upon them, and often get teased that I seem to be the only one who finds them . . . I like to think it’s simply proof-positive of adopting metta’s 20/20 vision?
Another undercover metta bossing trend I’ve noticed lately is anything but undercover: street art of all forms cropping up in Liverpool begging for selfie-reminders of our divine nature.
Perhaps rather than lurking behind closed doors, or graffiting after dark, or taking flight on social media, you’re secretly itching to go global with your living metta practice? If so, please consider joining the Sugar Cube Factory, a fun website where you can submit and receive anonymous words of kindness—known as Sugar Cubes—from around the world from the comfort of your keyboard.
And so, my fellow living metta-scientists, I’m wishing us all a boss New Year! If you have a vision for 2020, please resolve to light up both your inner and outer worlds whenever and wherever possible with metta because . . .