Another day in America.
Another mass shooting.
Another grievous wound.
The news will swell with posturing politicians, opiniated commentators, circular policy debates, and strident finger-pointing.
Beating through the noise will be human hearts suffering over the loss of life.
We will remember the victims. People with names. People targeted because of their sexual orientation.
I have previously written about a core spiritual crisis in American culture. But instead of adding more words to the noise, I wanted to share with you something I’ve found helpful in dealing with the turbulent feelings that arise whenever confronted by tragedies like the Orlando shooting.
There is a wonderful discourse by the Buddha in the Buddhist Pali Canon called the Metta Sutta (the discourse on loving-kindneess). Here it is:
This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in saftey,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!
Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.
From this sutta comes a beautiful meditative practice designed to foster compassion and loving-kindness; an antidote to the poisonous anger and hate we might feel in response to what we see in the world. We can’t always help other people, or save them, but we can make sure that we don’t cause harm in our own intentions, actions, and reactions.
The practice is rooted in a distillation of the Metta Sutta and its core intention: May all beings be at ease.
It consists of intentionally wishing first oneself, than a close family member or friend, than a stranger, than an enemy, loving-kindness:
May you be safe and protected from danger.
May you be happy and peaceful.
May you be healthy and strong.
May you have ease and well-being.
The idea is to expand loving-kindness from one’s self to all of humanity.
It isn’t an easy practice. Wishing well-being to a friend is no problem. But an enemy, someone whose harmful acts are also the product of suffering? Those who teach it will often suggest practicing it in steps, like exercising a muscle, until one is strong enough to overcome the difficulties.
This also isn’t a prayer. This isn’t a practice begging some outside force to intervene.
This is a practice designed to change our intentions and, by extension, the foundation of how we act in the world for those times when it is actually possible to act.
I have found the practice helpful in my own life, whether it involves tempering hostile responses to people who antagonize me or overcoming the angry helplessness in the face of senseless tragedy after senseless tragedy.
As I think of the victims of the Orlando shooting and, indeed, the victims of all the crimes that we read about in the news, I see this practice as a much-needed break from the arguments and rhetorical grandstanding and a vital approach to setting good intentions for the path forward. It is, I believe, a much-needed paradigm shift in a world that is veering away from the peace we yearn for, both domestically and abroad (see Common Dreams, “Trillions Spent on Violence as World Continues Downward Spiral Away From Peace”).
I’m nowhere near the Buddha, of course. But I’ll keep striving for that goal as my heart goes out to all victims of violence and injustice in general and Orlando’s LGBT community in particular.
To try out the loving-kindness meditation for yourself, you can download a free audio guide from UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, or play it here:
Frédérik Sisa is the Page’s Assistant Editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.