It’s a quirk of my peculiar mind to find connections between unrelated words that sound somewhat alike.
Something of the sort happened recently when I was going through my calendar to schedule stuff for May, and I noticed that May 1st was highlighted and accompanied by a preprinted inscription “May Day.”
I vaguely recalled from my elementary school education—which occurred sometime between Triassic and Jurassic periods—that May Day was some sort of spring festival that involved dancing around a Maypole. If memory serves, in mmmph-mmphh grade, our teacher even had us build a small one.
A quick internet search revealed that May Day has its roots in ancient pre-Christian festivals celebrating fertility, flowers, and in some early European cultures marked the first day of summer.
Living in the Northeast, I’m all for anything that celebrates the return of warm weather. But it’s one thing to celebrate the warmth outside. What about honoring the warmth within?
There are all sorts of events and holidays that nudge us to cultivate good will, love, kindness, and compassion. But May Day isn’t traditionally one of them.
Here’s where the peculiar quirk of my mind made a connection. I’d been working on a project about basic Buddhist principles. As I was flipping through my calendar to scribble in the due date, I’d been focusing on the principle of metta. Which sounded a lot to me like “May Day.”
Metta is a Pali word (Pali being the first language in which the Buddhist sutras were written) that is most often translated as loving-kindness. In practice it means cultivating a genuine wish for the happiness of others, as well as exercising patience, generosity, and appreciation of others.
Various sutras describe a variety of benefits to cultivating metta. Better sleep. Relief from nightmares. Better concentration. And of course not being so quick to get ticked off at other people or situations.
That one really caught my attention.
See, while waiting in line at the grocery store (or the post office) it’s easy for me to focus “one-pointedly” on the need to finish this chore and move on to the next. For me, that usually involves silently cultivating a less-than-loving-kind view of the people ahead of me.
In doing so, I lose any sense of connectedness to others. A wound opens in my heart, through which all sorts of dark thoughts and feelings enter. And this wound, I realize, is entirely self-inflicted. Yes, my annoyance may be overflowing, but no one is forcing me to get ticked off. It just happens to be the routine my mind falls into. My gig. My racket.
So why not replace it? Especially if it’s not doing me or anyone else around me any good.
I’ve decided to celebrate May Day as Metta day.
Instead of “checking out” in a checkout line and wallowing in my personal cesspool of dark imaginings, I can choose to “check out” the other people in line. What are their stories? Where are they in pain? Frustrated? Lonely? Overwhelmed?
Doing so requires a bit of emphasis-adjustment in the line of question I habitually ask. Instead of “Why is that woman pushing a loaded cart through the express line?” I asked “Why is that woman. . . ?”
Immediately, an image comes to mind: Her beloved parent is fading away in a nursing home and she has only half an hour to get her business done before she rushed back to be with her parent for those final hours.
Or: Her cat has run away and she was frantic. But she has to get food for her kids before they got home from school, and she’s hoping that if she’s fast enough, Boots will be waiting for her on the front step.
Are these stories true? It doesn’t matter, because each time I look at someone and allow a different image to pop up, a little scrap of pale gold light begins to patch the wound in my heart. Suddenly, there’s no room for darkness. There’s only light.
And a sincere wish that, whatever is going on for those people, they might feel a little happier, a little more peaceful.
Will I sleep better at night? Will I never have a nightmare again? Will my concentration improve? I don’t know.
What I know is that when I extend a smile or a kind thought to someone and they smile back, something warm and golden has occurred. And maybe they’ll pass that on to someone else.
Maybe Metta Day will be become Metta Month.
Photo Credit: Laura Stone/Shutterstock.com