“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty”. Albert Einstein
If we are serious about developing a mindfulness practice then sooner or later we will have to stop contemplating just our own navels and recognize that each person on this planet has as much right to happiness as we do.
Whether it’s called “metta bhavana”, “loving kindness” or “connection meditation”, until we work at developing empathy we run the risk that the rest of our meditation practice will be dry and self-centered.
Traditionally there are four types of people that we can develop feelings of kindness and warmth towards during meditation. They are ourselves, a close friend, a neutral person (someone who creates no ripples in our minds) and an “enemy” or someone with whom we have difficulty. It’s said that we are doing well with this practice when we eventually feel equally warm towards each type of person….
I’ve found this is another area where my illness and disability is a benefit. That’s because I’ve become the neutral person!
When I was younger, I have to admit that disabled people were always “other”. Someone else. Someone living a life very different to mine. Now I am the other person and it’s woken me up to the humanity that I missed in each person that’s ever passed me by unnoticed.
At the beginning of a Breathworks Mindfulness for health course, participants agree not to talk about anything personal that’s mentioned during a class outside of the classes. This can create a very intimate safe space and, to my shame, as I’ve learnt more about the people on the course, I’ve become aware that in the past I could be quite prejudiced and small minded about disabled people. The sad thing is that I think my previous attitude is fairly normal among many able-bodied people.
A week ago. I was asked to help out at a local motor neurone disease fund-raising event being held at, of all things, “Truck Fest” which as the name implies is a festival of trucking. I was put slightly on the spot when asked if I would say a few words in the main arena watched on by a few hundred truckers and their families.
I explained that up until recently I worked as a cameraman and TV news director and have had to give up my much cherished career because of my motor neurone disease taking away the strength I needed to do the job. I am an example of how illnesses like motor neurone disease can and do happen to anybody, I said. It feels like it won’t happen to you, but it might.
In a book I read recently it said instead of asking why me? Try asking why not me?….if it can happen to the “other person”, it can also happen to me, or to you. It makes total and absolute sense if you think about it because there is so little difference between us.Words and pictures © Miles Pilling