Lovingkindness, metta, serves as one of the paramitas of Buddhist practice. We practice to perfect lovingkindness so that we can realize our true nature.
Lovingkindness sounds like a grand, lofty goal, maybe something that only the Dalai Lama can reach all the time. But it is really the most simple, everyday thing we can imagine. It is present in every encounter we have throughout every day, with other beings, and with ourselves.
I practice lovingkindness while shopping at Target. I was there early one afternoon, standing in the checkout line. The two women in front of me had three separate orders on the belt, set off by those red plastic batons. The checker ran each item over the laser beam, in no particular hurry. One of the women paid with a piece of paper. The checker ran the paper through her cash register. As I stood waiting, I felt impatient. I imagined that I would step up to the check stand and be taken immediately. I would whisk through and be out the door. My situation was not what I thought it should be. The checker stood in front of register with the piece of paper. I glared at her. She looked up and our eyes met. “It froze up,” she said in my direction. I simmered. She got her machine going again, and finally the women completed their transaction, and left. I stepped up. The checker cheerfully asked how I was, and I grunted something and stayed silent. I paid and left the store. Even as I walked to my truck, I did not feel as if I acted kindly toward the woman behind the check stand.
The next time I went into Target, I was resolved to be more patient and kind. When I got in front of the checker, who was a different woman, she asked me how I was doing. I smiled and joked with her. She looked at me with the biggest smile and giggled. Her face lit up. Looking into that face told me everything I need to know about my own nature.
It might seem impossible to be loving and kind, twenty-four/seven. We don’t feel that way in every situation. But the practice is to perfect our lovingkindness. That is our resolve. This metta practice follows the steps of the Eightfold Path (intention, speech, action, effort, view, livelihood, mindfulness, and concentration). The Eightfold Path also follows lovingkindness.