"So, with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world, spreading upward to the skies
and downward to depths, outwards and unbounded."
--- from Karaniya Metta Sutta of the Pali Canon*
|Margo Adair 1950-2010|
I hadn't thought of Margo Adair in quite awhile. In the mid-1980's this book brought her brilliant synthesis of Spirituality and Activism to a wider public. It made quite an impact on many of us who were -- and still are -- convinced that Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr had it right. A master theorist and practitioner of what she characterized as "applied meditation", Margo Adair offered forth a rich collection of guided visualizations and group practices that bridged what some folks may consider the chasm between "inner work" and "outer work." Her work and her life also bridged the perceived gaps between the present moment and the eternal, the "real" and the "possible', helping to transform and heal some of the wounds of the racism, sexism, and homophobia of our times.
Once we start paying attention to it, we notice how frequently we're imagining what is going to happen in the future --oftentimes with a substrata of fear or desire propelling us to cast ourselves into leading roles in a future heaven or hell in the screenplay of our own lives. We also notice that we are often "imagining" what happened yesterday more than really remembering, tending to re-write the script to come out better in our own eyes. We're quite randomly "visualizing" a lot.
The traditional metta practices of Theravadan Buddhism are one set of visualization practices. "May all beings be at peace" is one of the most widely recognized phrases from this ancient body of mental recitations/visualizations. Starting with ourselves and then expanding to others, (may I be, may he or she be, may they be, etc.) we focus on the aspiration for certain specific qualities of being, using the words, images, and feelings we choose to bring to mind. As the practice develops we find that this actually helps to cultivate our capacity for being kind and peaceful, that a greater sense of ease and clarity can and does emerge for ourselves, perhaps even for others.
And that's not all.
In other visualizations like the excerpt from the Kalaniya Metta Sutta above, the process of actually visualizing our connection to a "boundless heart" and radiating kindness outward into the expanse of the universe seems to expand the dimension of our experience beyond the limited scope of our own conditioning. The line between what is considered "real" and what is "imaginary" is a lot more permeable than we were led to believe. Intuition and creativity dance freely across that interface.
Then, at a certain point, there can be a palpable shift in perspective. We come to sense, intuitively, that we are much more than we may have been led to believe -- and always have been. Sometimes we may even get a pretty clear glimpse of our True Nature, that we are not just "skull encapsulated egos" as Alan Watts described it. We feel in our bones the reality that we're not just individuated clumps of matter and mind fundamentally separate from everything else.
How cool is that?
( *The Pali Canon is the most complete early Buddhist collection of scriptures. Living on as an oral tradition for centuries, it was written down at the Fourth Buddhist Council in Sri Lanka in 29 BCE. It is the central scripture of the what is considered to be the oldest surviving school of Buddhism, the Theravada.)