The Big View
The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.
- Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
Perspective is a funny thing. We tend to go through life with a very narrow view of what is going on around us, judging everything that happens in terms of how it affects us, our own happiness and well-being. Things that directly affect us, or happen close to us, or happen to people we know, have more effect on us than things that happen far away from us, or to people we don't know or don't relate to.
Of course, this is a natural starting place, and is a mechanism that helps us cope with the world. Perspective can feel like a dangerous thing. But, as we grow and evolve we can move beyond this ego-bound view of the world and start to take a bigger view.
Thou shalt give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English speaking countries as to those that occur in English speaking countries.
- Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, "Thou Shalt Always Kill"
Part of what we do in our metta practice is to move beyond this ego-centric view and understand the artificial nature of dividing the world into 'self' and 'other.' But just as moving beyond the delusion of those terms means we care for the well-being of others as we do for our self, it also means that we care for the well-being of our self as much as others. It's not that we become self-less, it is that when we take the big view we recognize the equality of our worth - we don't become insignificant, we become equally-significant.
The wonderful teacher Sharon Salzberg tells this story of how she came to realize this through metta meditation:
There was a time in Burma when I was practicing metta intensively. I had taken about six weeks to go through all the different categories: myself, benefactor, friend, neutral person, and enemy. After I had spent these six weeks doing the metta meditation all day long, my teacher, U Pandita, called me into his room and said, "Say you were walking in the forest with your benefactor, your friend, your neutral person, and your enemy. Bandits come up and demand that you choose one person in your group to be sacrificed. Which one would you choose to die?"
I was shocked at U Pandita's question. I sat there and looked deep into my heart, trying to find a basis from which I could choose. I saw that I could not feel any distinction between any of those people, including myself. Finally I looked at U Pandita and replied, "I couldn't choose; everyone seems the same to me."
U Pandita then asked, "You wouldn't choose your enemy?" I thought a minute and then answered, "No, I couldn't."
Finally U Pandita asked me, "Don't you think you should be able to sacrifice yourself to save the others?" He asked the question as if more than anything else in the world he wanted me to say, "Yes, I'd sacrifice myself." A lot of conditioning rose up in me -- an urge to please him, to be "right" and to win approval. But there was no way I could honestly say "yes," so I said, "No, I can't see any difference between myself and any of the others." He simply nodded in response, and I left.
- Sharon Salzberg, Facets of Metta
This is the Big View - a view that can have love and compassion for all beings equally, recognizing the worth of all beings. It's not a sense of perspective that makes us insignificant, but one that values all equally.
PS: Exciting news - for those of you who live in the area and who wish to join with us we will be meeting in person for the first time since lockdown next week on 20th June! I will be sending more details this week, or check out our website where I will update the information some time this week.
A lot of you have requested that I keep sending these tiny letters, so I will continue sending a short message and a link to an audio meditation each week. Please bear with me as I work on the timing and workflow going forward!
For this week, I have linked below a fully guided metta meditation where we explore this week's theme of taking the Big View. A few of us have committed to press 'play' at 7pm on Sunday 13th June - you are welcome to join us or use this audio in any other way you wish.