Invisible People: Why They’re Important in Lovingkindness Practice

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I’ve been doing lovingkindness practice for 20 years, mostly following the standard formula – starting by offering kindness to myself, then family, friends, teachers and benefactors (people easy to love) and on to indifferent people, difficult people and finally all beings. The practice of offering kindness to indifferent people in particular has completely changed my orientation and perspective. It has led to a deeper exploration of what “indifferent” really means and some interesting revelations.

I began to notice in metta instructions that indifferent people are often described as service workers, clerks, repair people, those we don’t see or interact with as regularly as others. In some cases they may at a lower point socioeconomically than the largely middle and upper middle class Americans that practice lay Buddhism. In many cases, our unseen or unacknowledged privilege may render certain people indifferent, or even invisible.

My first insight into this happened in a grocery store. I have long frequented a Kroger near my home that has a well-stocked organic produce section. A man who works in this department is normally present stocking and restocking in the morning when I often shop. He is likely an immigrant as are many employees in the Kroger produce department. For a few years, he was essentially an indifferent person to me, and often invisible.

One day I touched some produce that was very wet and my hands were dripping. He quickly came over with a paper towel so I could dry my hands. This simple act of kindness and attention penetrated my heart. I felt tears welling up as I realized how often I had overlooked him, how I had unconsciously rendered him not just indifferent but invisible.

After that I began looking around the store and noticing people who were stocking the shelves, working the cash registers, etc. and offered them wishes of kindness and wellbeing. Inevitably, a friendly hello or a smile followed. As an introvert I often keep my attention to myself in public places, but these simple acts of acknowledgement opened my awareness and loving friendliness in a way that broke me out of conditioned patterns and created friendly interactions. This practice was a new avenue for me to recognize and appreciate the innerconnection we all share.

I was further broken out of my complacency with indifferent people after I read an article by a disabled person describing his experiences in public. He’s in a wheelchair and he explained how people either reflexively look away or view his disability with morbid curiosity. He wrote that he simply wants to be seen and acknowledged as a human being. This is an example of how some of us may unconsciously render a person, or a group of people, invisible. Even if we see them, if we primarily see their disability or their “otherness,” they are invisible.

I often walk at a park near my home and I began to consciously acknowledge those in wheelchairs with a friendly, simple hello. I could see right away the gratitude that arose from this acknowledgement of inherent humanity that is too often withheld from those seen as “different.” This is one of the great teachings of metta – at heart all humans all have the same needs for safety, wellbeing, and freedom from suffering. To make someone the “other” and render them invisible, strips away this reality and separates our hearts from the compassion, kindness and love that naturally dwells in awareness.

Now when I offer an extended guided metta meditation, I ask the participants to explore what categories of humans are invisible to them. For some of us, it may be the homeless or disabled, for others, people of different ethnicities, sexual orientation or the elderly. Even if we see them, do we categorize them too quickly into stereotypes and preconceived ideas of who they are? If so, they are invisible to us. If we want our metta practice to be genuinely inclusive, we need to bring them into our practice consciously. Buddha admonished us to offer kindness to all beings and it is part of our practice to do so.

Sometimes, we also make certain parts of ourselves invisible. When I was leading this meditation at a recent lovingkdiness retreat, a man of color described his experience doing this practice:

“When the Metta practice pointed towards invisible people, as a person of color, I thought to myself, ‘how many times have I made myself invisible in the company of those that do not share my diversity?’

And also, how many times have I faded into the background so that a particular group of people, seemingly different from my diversity, could feel safe?

Thoughts of my teenage years came back when my white friends would say, ’don’t go over there or don’t hang out with those people because they are the N-word,’ then someone would say to me, ‘sorry.’ Then someone else would say to me, ‘you’re not a N-word’ and I would think to myself ‘yeah, I’m not a N-word.’

During this practice, the realization of how thin that veil is allowed me to witness deeply where I have been spiritually bypassing my diversity.

Then, the following phrases came to mind.

May I, you, we, be seen
May, I, you, we, be heard
May, I, we, you be understood and not misunderstood
May, I, we, you be held and cared for with compassion, love and grace.”

The final category of metta is “all beings.” While it does include invisible beings, it is not specific and doesn’t address how bias, bypassing and racism render some beings invisible. The practice of including invisible people more specifically is not a panacea, but a simple invitation to make visible and explore that which has been hidden. May we allow our hearts to open to all of the beings we overlook or ignore, may we extend compassion without limitation.

Lisa Ernst

 

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Hatred will Never Let You Face the Beast in Man

This is a post I wrote in 2016, and it is just as pertinent now.

Hatred Will Never Let You Face the Beast in Man
Lisa Ernst

Buddha taught us that we must cultivate compassion for all beings, without exception. This doesn’t mean that we stand by passively while people trample over us, compassion isn’t incompatible with firm boundaries that declare, “this is not ok.” But if we begin to justify holding hate in our hearts, we become no different from those we feel in opposition to. The Dalai Lama understood this, even as he was exiled from his homeland of China. And Albert Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.”

Thich Nhat Hanh has been one of the most eloquent voices advocating that we always remember interconnection and that we love our enemies. Not that it’s an easy easy path. We have to overcome habitual tendencies to create the divisions that naturally arise out of fear.

Recommendation is a powerful poem in which Thich Nhat Hanh encourages compassion for all, without exception.

Promise me,
promise me this day,
promise me now,
while the sun is overhead
exactly at the zenith,
promise me:

Even as they
strike you down
with a mountain of hatred and violence;
even as they step on you and crush you
like a worm,
even as they dismember and disembowel you,
remember, brother,
remember:
man is not our enemy.

The only thing worthy of you is compassion –
invincible, limitless, unconditional.
Hatred will never let you face
the beast in man.

One day, when you face this beast alone,
with your courage intact, your eyes kind,
untroubled
(even as no one sees them),
out of your smile
will bloom a flower.
And those who love you
will behold you
across ten thousand worlds of birth and dying.

Alone again,
I will go on with bent head,
knowing that love has become eternal.
On the long, rough road,
the sun and the moon
will continue to shine.

This poem was written in 1965 in Vietnam for the School of Youth Social Service. This group rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools and medical centers, resettled homeless families, and organized agricultural cooperatives. They worked with the Buddhist principles of non-violence. Thich Nhat Hahn was banned from his homeland in 1966. He has never become bitter or let hate fill his heart even as he became a great teacher for the world. If he had not had this heart of great compassion and interconnection, its doubtful he would have risen to the stature he has. His mind and heart were bigger than those who created division, destruction and war. May we all remember to keep love and compassion in our hearts, even in the most difficult times.

Half Day Compassion Retreat: Heart Practices for Challenging Times

Saturday, June 3, 2017, 9 a.m. – Noon
Nashville Friends Meeting
Led by Lisa Ernst

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Please join us for a half day of sitting and walking meditation. Compassion and wisdom are the two wings of practice that bring our hearts to liberation. But how do we consistently practice compassion and kindness toward ourselves and others in challenging times? How does our wise heart lead the way? In this silent retreat we will explore several lovingkindness and compassion practices that refresh our hearts and open us to our innate freedom and kindness.

Led by Lisa Ernst, this retreat is suitable for newer and more experienced meditators. It will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, instructions and dharma. Cost is $45 and is due by Monday, May 29. A reduced fee spot is available, please inquire. Paypal is here. If paying by check, instructions are here. Please include your email address.

Additional details will be provided to registrants in advance of the retreat. For questions, email onedharmaretreat@gmail.com

Mindfulness Meditation Workshop for Adults with ADD/ADHD

Saturday, August 29, 9 a.m. – Noon
Nashville Friends House

Lisa Ernst, meditation teacher and founder of One Dharma Nashville, and Terry Huff, LCSW, psychotherapist specializing in adults with ADHD, will offer a meditation workshop for adults with the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD. The workshop will include lecture, practice, and discussion and will address the following:

1. How does meditation help with ADD/ADHD?
2. Basics of practice
3. Different practices for
a. selective attention (focusing)
b. open awareness (expanding)
c. compassion (for self and other)

Research shows that mindfulness practice improves concentration, attention regulation (as in disengaging from one task and starting another), self-observation (of mental activity), working memory, and emotion regulation.

The workshop will be held at The Nashville Friends House, 530 26th Ave N. Cost is $50. Payment can be made by check or paypal. For paypal, go here, or write a check to One Dharma Nashville, and mail to One Dharma Nashville, 2301 12th Avenue South, Suite 202, Nashville, TN 37204. Please include your email address. A reduced fee is available to anyone who can’t afford the full fee.

Contact ernst.lisa@gmail.com or tmhuff@comcast.net to inquire.

June 13 Daylong Meditation Retreat

There’s still time to register for our daylong meditation retreat focusing on cultivating calm presence and lovingkindness. Held at the Nashville Friends House, the cost is $50. Please see full information here.

Flowering Lotus Lovingkindness Retreat Recap

Last weekend I led a lovingkindness retreat at a beautiful retreat center in Magnolia Mississippi, a place I’d never been before. Magnolia is a small town aptly named – the minute we entered the city, blooming magnolias were everywhere. Founded by Dolores Watson about 5 years ago, Flowering Lotus Retreat Center has grown considerably and has hosted teachers such as Phillip Moffitt, David Loy and John Orr. Dolores is a remarkable and energetic woman who so obviously loves the dharma. I first met her last November when she attended my seven day residential retreat here in Middle Tennessee. I wasn’t at all surprised that the care and thought she has put into the center shines through in every detail. She has her own bold and unique style, which I loved.

Dolores Watson Meditation Hall The experience level for this retreat ranged from four or five people who had never meditated before to several with extensive retreat experience, and everything in between. We focused on lovingkindness (metta) practice for the weekend, which I always appreciate teaching. Watching hearts open and barriers dissolve, seeing people finally realize its ok to offer kindness and love to themselves, is a deeply fulfilling experience for me. I remember how hard it was the first time I tried it many years ago, how I felt guilty and even selfish spending so much time giving metta to myself. But when my heart finally cracked open, I was able to receive and extend love to all beings for the first time. That has stayed with me ever since when I practice metta. At this retreat, as we moved our metta outward to loved ones, family friends, indifferent and difficult people, some at the retreat got a taste of the heart that is not separate from all beings, the heart that can love unconditionally. This is the realm of true compassion. Lodge at Flowering Lotus May all beings be free from suffering. May they live in equanimity.

June Daylong Meditation Retreat

Stilling Mind and Heart with Mindfulness and Lovingkindness
Saturday, June 13, 2015
9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Nashville Friends House
Led by Lisa Ernst

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During the busyness and activity that often accompany our daily lives, this meditation retreat will offer a quiet time to slow down, mindfully connect with our bodies and extend kindness and compassion to ourselves and others. Slowly, in the simplicity and silence of the day, we will learn to let go of distractions and touch our experience with a kind and open heart.

Led by meditation teacher Lisa Ernst, this silent retreat is suitable for newer and more experienced meditators. It will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, practice instructions and dharma talk.

Retreat fee is $50. A reduced fee spot is available, please inquire to the email below. Paypal is here. If paying by check, you can find instructions on where to send it at this link. Be sure to include your email address. There will be a separate opportunity at the retreat to make a dana offering (donation) to the teacher.

For questions, contact onedharmaretreat@gmail.com.

Residential Retreat: Awakening a Spacious Heart through Lovingkindness Meditation

I’m excited to be leading this residential retreat at the beautiful Flowering Lotus Retreat Center in Magnolia Mississippi, May 15 – 17. I hope you’ll join me!

With an emphasis on lovingkindness, this silent retreat will focus on cultivating what the Buddha called “the immeasurable states of heart and mind” – the Brahma Viharas or Divine Abodes. These are the qualities of love, compassion, joy and equanimity that reside in us all.

Our innate lovingkindness will be strengthened and enhanced through learning the formal practice of metta, along with brahma vihara instructions, sitting and walking meditation and dharma talks. As our hearts awaken through lovingkindness, we will discover a deeper sense of self-acceptance, self-confidence, openness and interconnection with all of life.

For more information and to register go here.

Mindfulness and Lovingkindness in Huntsville

The Power of Presence: A Mindfulness and Lovingkindess Workshop
Saturday, March 14, 1 – 4 p.m.
Yoga Center of Huntsville
Led by Lisa Ernst

Learn to rest your heart and mind in ease and presence. We will tune in more fully to our present moment experience, drawing on the practices of mindfulness and lovingkindness. These transformational practices help us expand our capacity for well being, compassion and joy.

Suitable for beginning as well as more experienced meditators, the workshop will include instructions in mindfulness and lovingkindness practices, sitting and walking meditation and group discussion. Cost is $50 if registered by March 6. This workshop will be hosted by The Yoga Center of Huntsville.

Lisa Ernst is a meditation teacher, artist and founder of One Dharma Nashville. In her teaching, Lisa emphasizes both transformational insight and everyday awakening as an invitation to embrace all of the path’s possibilities. She has been meditating for over 25 years and leads classes and retreats nationally.

For more information or to register, call 256-533-7975

Kindness and Compassion Daylong Retreat

Saturday, December 6, 2014, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Nashville Friends House
sunrisemaryhelen

During the busyness and outward focus that often accompany the holidays, this daylong retreat will offer a quiet time to slow down, connect with our bodies and extend kindness and compassion to ourselves and others. Slowly, in the simplicity and silence of the day, we will learn to let go of distractions and touch our experience with a kind and open heart.

Led by meditation teacher Lisa Ernst, this silent retreat is suitable for newer and more experienced meditators. It will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, practice instructions and dharma talk.

Retreat fee is $50. A reduced fee spot is available, please inquire to the email below. Paypal is here. If paying by check, make it out to One Dharma Nashville. There will be a separate opportunity at the retreat to make a dana offering (donation) to the teacher.
For questions, contact onedharmaretreat@gmail.com.