Every Tuesday evening I get the 23 bus to Didsbury in Manchester, to teach my weekly mindfulness meditation class. During the class we explore a number of different meditations. One of the practices that I enjoy sharing is the Metta Bhavana or ‘kindly awareness’ practice. Some of the aims of this meditation practice are to loosen our idea of being a separate isolated self, cut off from other people and the world around us. Also to allow for a more open hearted compassionate response to ourselves and others.
I was reminded of this when I recently saw an interview on CNN with the American politician Bernie Sanders – a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in the 2016 election. He spoke of his involvement the civil rights movement in his twenties and said, “I believe that in my whole life, that we are in this together. Not just words, the truth is, at some level when you hurt, when your children hurt, I hurt. And when my kids hurt, you hurt.” He went onto say, “It’s very easy to turn our backs on kids who are hungry or veterans who are sleeping on the street. We can develop a psychology that says, ‘I don’t have to worry about them, I just need to worry about myself and making another five billion dollars’ but I believe that what human nature is about is that everybody in this room impacts everybody else in all kinds of ways that we can’t understand. It goes beyond intellect and is an emotional spiritual matter.”
He goes on to say that when we respond to another human being with dignity and respect, from a perspective of interconnectedness then we are fully human. He added that he believes that a majority of people around the globe, regardless of their colour and their religion share this belief.
As human beings, we are in constant relationship with both ourselves and the world around us. To be human is to be connected. The Buddha taught that one of the root causes of our suffering is the view that we are separate from the world and other living beings. When I feel unconnected to others and isolated from myself and my environment I find this very painful. It is interesting to note that when we feel connected to others then our actions in the world become more selfless and compassionate, our relationship to others more harmonious, giving our lives a deeper sense of meaning and abundance.