I once heard Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo say that we have to begin our practice of patience, generosity and loving-kindness with our families. After all, if we can’t be kind to the ones closest to us, how can we expect to be kind to the people we don’t know?
I’m spending a week at my Mom’s and Aunt’s house and I’m learning the limits of this practice. It’s not that it’s all that bad here. My relationship with my family is a pretty good one. After navigating our way through our share of storms, none of which was made any easier by my constant rocking of the boat, we really enjoy each other’s company.
But you know how it goes: The ones closest to you tend to push your buttons the best, even if they don’t mean to.
Now, I’m not indicting anyone in here. I’m just noticing what’s going on in my own mind. What I’m noticing is that I’ve got plenty of impatience to go around. Case in point: My aunt is cleaning the house all around me. As I write this, she is spraying the countertops with vinegar solution, scrubbing, sweeping and mopping. It’s a terrible racket and smell and I’m about to scream. But I’m forgetting who it is that I want to scream at. This is the woman who has taken care of me more times than I can count, who has always been there for me even when everyone else had thrown up their hands in exasperation and despair. Turns out I’m not as tolerant, forgiving, understanding or generous as I thought I was.
Buddhist practice is in large part about regarding all beings as being equally deserving of happiness as ourselves. It’s kind of a no-brainer when you think about it: Everyone wants to be happy, nobody really wants to suffer. They’re just like you and me, so why not try to be a little nicer to everyone?
But it’s not that easy. Actually it’s very, very hard to be kind to others all the time. Our ingrained and habitual way of thinking always puts ourselves first. And these are hard habits to shake.
To counter that, to ingrain new ways of thinking, we Buddhists (actually all spiritual traditions have their own methods for this) do all kinds of visualizations, meditations and prayers. We call it generating Bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment, the genuine wish that all beings be free from suffering and find the ultimate state of freedom and spiritual liberation.
These meditations are amazing and they do actually work. Little by little, day by day, they open the mind and the heart. But they have to start at home. It’s easy to say “I want all beings to be happy” but until we make a real heart connection with the ones closest to us and really perfect this wish for them, we’ll just be saying the words.