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Mindful : April 2013
than harshly and returning to the breath or our object of concentration with kindness and compassion for ourselves. Thus, those qualities of compassion and kindness deepen even if we don’t give voice to those words. And what we do for ourselves, we can also begin to do toward others. A few yearsagoIwasonmywayto Tucson, but my plans were challenged when I found my- self in an airplane sitting on a runway for four and a half hours at La Guardia Airport. Looking back on it, I some- times refer jokingly to those hours as “the breakdown of civilization.” It was hot, and it grew hotter. After a point, people starting yelling, “Let me off this plane!” The pilot resorted to getting on the PA system and saying sternly, “No one is getting off this plane.” I wasn’t feeling all that chipper myself. I couldn’t get in touch with the people in Tucson who were supposed to pick me up at the airport, and I was concerned about them. I had an apartment to go to in New York City and kept thinking, to no avail, “I can just go back there and try again tomorrow.” I was hot. I felt pummeled by the people shouting around me. Then I recalled an image that a good friend of mine, Bob Thurman, author of Infinite Life: Seven Virtues for Living Well, often uses to describe the flow of kind- ness and compassion that comes from seeing the world more truthfully. He says, “Imagine you are on the New York City subway, and these Martians come and zap the subway car so that those of you in the car are going to be together...forever.” What do we do? If someone is hung ry, we feed them. If someone is freaking out, we try to calm them down. We might not like everybody or approve of them, but we are going to be together forever. So we need to respond with the wisdom of how interrelated our lives are—and will remain. Sitting on that airplane, I recalled my friend’s story. I looked around the cabin and thought, “Maybe these are my people.” I saw my worldview shift from “me” and “them” to “we.” The claustrophobia eased. In terms of meditative understanding (in contrast to our usual way of thinking, which might regard these qualities as gifts we can do nothing to cultivate or as immediate emotional reac- tions we enjoy but can’t stabilize), kindness and compassion are indeed skills we develop. Not in the sense of forcing ourselves to feel, or even worse, pretend to feel, an emotion that is not there. Instead, if we learn to pay at tention in a different, more open way—seeing the good within ourselves instead of fixating on what we don’t like, noticing those we usually ignore or look right through, letting go of categories a nd assumptions when we relate to others—we are creating the conditions for kindness and compassion to flow. We practice meditation in the end not to become great meditators but to have a differ- ent life. As we deepen the skills of concentration, mindfulness, and compassion, we find we have less stress, more fulfill- ment, more insight, a nd vastly more happiness. We transform our lives. ● We need to respond with the wisdom of how interrelated our lives are. 76 mindful April 2013 in practice insight