Every night, as part of our bedtime ritual, my cat Amelia races me up the stairs and jumps onto her blanket in the bottom right corner of the bed. There she waits patiently as I shower, brush teeth, and make my way to bed. At which point she immediately begins her insistent, plaintive crying, even as she sees me reaching over to grab her brush from the night stand. “It’s okay, I tell her. See? I’m holding the brush, I am moving next to you to begin using it.” Her cries don’t abate until I’m well into the third or fourth stroke.
I don’t understand; I brush her nearly every night. Ostensibly she knows it’s going to happen. She watches me intently as I reach over to get the brush, as I bring it toward her. She seems to anticipate the brush as she arches her back up to meet it. Why start our sweet, nightly wind-down with this ritual of agitated crying?
Something similar happens when I sit down to meditate.
I’ve been meditating since 2007. Off and on admittedly—mostly on, other times off. Since this May, I’ve sat daily. Yet still, quite often (though thankfully not nightly) the moment I sit and contact silence, the insistent cries rush in. Not Amelia’s; these are cries from my mind. “It’s okay, I tell myself. See? I’m sitting here silently, learning to be more and more gentle with what arises.” I don’t understand why this time of winding down and connecting has to begin in this way.
But here it is, so I decide to apply this new approach to metta with what is arising. As Jack Kornfield instructed in the first part of his article “How to Do Metta,” I begin by offering the phrases to two people I love. Tonight, I included this agitated part of me that arises when I sit. Deeply feeling the love and kindness behind the phrases:
“May you be safe. May you be peaceful and content. May you be healthy. May you live with joy and ease.”
Then, as I followed his next instruction, turning the phrases toward myself, I felt the love between the part and I. Not at first. At first I was just following the instructions, being a good meditator. I continued, repeating the phrases, welcoming in the feelings of warmth and goodwill. I felt myself soften. My muscles releasing—jaw, shoulders, hips, and calves. I noticed my breath slow and deepen.
I turned my attention to the mind and discovered that the previous attacking quality—the pace and the tone of the thoughts that arose between the metta phrases—had softened as well. I suddenly had the sense that this agitated part of myself, like Amelia, might just be letting me know how important this quiet time is to her. Life Amelia, she wanted to emphasize how much she counts on being with me in this way. That nearly every night is not quite as good as every night, and she cannot tell if I miss one night how long the stretch might be.
I recognized that this part of me, insistent on wailing as I move into practice, values this time as much as I do. She’s reminding me it’s a priority because it’s good for both of us. Sitting itself is an act of love and kindness. Just like brushing Amelia.
What part of you would like a little extra love and kindness today?