I had been allowing this logic to touch my mind deeply in the lead-up to the retreat:
In the meditation's contemplation, we begin with kindness. How much kindness have we received from others? We don't need to look far. Who is working to create the electricity that powers this laptop? Who even made this laptop? Which musicians recorded the music that I am listening to as I type? Who made the clothes that I am wearing? Who grew the tea that I am drinking? Think of the cow who made the milk for this tea. All these beings are helping me - I am receiving so much benefit from their actions. Do we really exist in some kind of vacuum, where we are not bound up with the kindness of others?
If we like, we can make our mind really big at this point, and consider the fact that if our mindstream is endless, if we have had countless lives before this one, then in every life before this one we had a mother. Where are all those mothers now? They are all the living beings around us now. This, you could say, is mother nature in her most beautiful form, she is alive in every living being around us.
Then, we move into the second level of logic: all these kind living beings are just like me. We are equal. Isn't that correct? Or are we somehow more important than everyone else? Just as I wish to be free from suffering and only experience happiness, so do they. We are no different. We hold our mind in this recognition, this equality.
Then, the third level of logic comes: I am one, others are countless. How can I only focus on my happiness, and not also on theirs? How can I think of my own freedom from suffering, and not wish for theirs? In this way, we allow our mind to open right up, like the petals of a lotus. Our heart opens as we start to see how many other beings are surrounding us and how much their happiness matters.
I had spent the past few weeks preparing for this retreat, by holding my mind to this posture every afternoon. At first, my mind was flickering a lot, there was a lot of distraction, but with each passing day, the posture became more fluid, more comfortable. I began to love this meditation. It felt so nourishing - so plugged into reality.
Early on Saturday morning, I got a text message from my American mother-in-law. She wanted to know if my parents in France were okay. I checked the news and felt that tight grip on my stomach. I turned on Skype to call my parents in the French countryside. They answered with wavering voices, tears audible. There it was, the mass killings of innocent people. Our world in deep, manifest pain.
I headed to the center for our retreat and we sat for the entire day and held our mind to this insight. That every living being matters. That they are all our kind mothers. We trained in holding this mind of love, to let it perculate our very being, to imprint strong habits of loving-kindness onto the mind, like a printing press. We were deliberately moving our mind out of the hallucinatory orbit of self, and into the ocean of all beings.
The next morning, I had to remain in this mental space as I was helping to lead another class: Meditations for World Peace. Our meditation object on Sunday, in the circle of the 14 Lamrim meditations that we cycle through each week in our Mahayana Buddhist center, was Bodhichitta - the mind of enlightenment. This is where we make the decision, to train our mind to its very highest potential in order to release all beings from suffering. This thought takes deep training, it doesn't arise naturally.
We make a pledge, a decision, to become a Buddha for the benefit of all. This doesn't mean we start to try to convert everyone around us to Buddhism. Far from it - we leave them be. It just means we make the pledge to go deep into our own heart, and institute change within. We set off a campaign of inner peace and a campaign, in fact, to destroy the part of our mind that exaggerates our own importance - to overcome all selfishness in our heart, and build and empower our love for others.
When I came home, it was time to finally turn on the BBC and NPR - and let the news wash over me. I saw the horror. I saw all the horrific details flood in, of mass shootings and violence. I heard the fear and anger and disbelief in voices on radio roundtables. I saw the stream of prayers appearing on Facebook.
That weekend, something else happened:
We grabbed our winter coats and ran out of our apartment building. We stood on the sidewalk under a cold winter sky. There were huge flames coming out of the building. Smoke was bulging out and the sky was red. It looked like a battle scene. It could have been a street in a warzone. I felt the ordinary, safe contours of life fall away. I saw the panic that comes when humans have their normality ripped away.
But then I looked closer. And surrounding this building were fire trucks with flashing lights and there were men and women, dressed in coats and they were walking straight into this burning building. They had appeared like guardians, to protect life. I saw their kindness, directly.
In coming weeks, I will be dwelling on this image: A person who walks into a burning building while everyone else is running out. The being who sees the suffering and heads straight into it, with the wish to extinguish it. How perhaps this is the mind of a Bodhisattva. I will be using my time, as much as I can, to build peace within - to meditate and create its architecture and awaken its reality in my heart. Because our planet needs this peace. And surely it has to begin with consciousness, it has to start in the mind.