I meditate, generally using my breath as a guide but sometimes using the metta bhavana, or loving-kindness meditation. This is a buddhist meditation where the mind is not cleared but encouraged into kindness, peace and loving thoughts directed first towards self, then to someone close, then to someone you feel neutral about and finally directed towards someone you find challenging. It is a beautiful meditation which I find does work in engendering feelings of loving kindness towards myself and others.
The relevance here is that I find it really hard to find someone who I feel neutral about. When learning this meditation my teacher suggested bringing to mind someone who you knew of but who you didn’t really know. Perhaps someone who had served you in a shop or the postman. But it is hard to visualise a person without invoking the feelings that you have about that person, even if it was just a brief encounter. My postman is always cheery despite being barked at by my dog from the other side of the door virtually every morning, while the guy in the post office is a grumpy old devil despite the fact that I always smile at him.
I don’t know either of these people but I have made a judgement,of sorts, from scant knowledge.
My father, then a director of a multinational was, once a year, involved with the university milk round. He interviewed the brightest and best for the wide range of management training opportunities offered by his conglomerate. He is retired now and the multinational he worked for long since split into its many component parts so I feel safe in making this disclosure. There were many traits that would guarantee a students failure at interview even before they spoke.
For example, wearing slip on shoes meant that you were lazy. If you couldn’t be bothered to tie your own shoelaces then you were very unlikely to be inclined to put yourself out for the company. The same went for beards, wearers being clearly too lazy to shave. A coloured shirt with white collar, popular in the 80’s and making something of a comeback at the moment, was a clear indication of being flash, and therefore not to be trusted. And red ties? No real reason but these, and braces incidentally, each condemned the wearer to the fate of receiving the thanks-but-no-thanks letter a couple of days after the interview.
It used to horrify me that such banal physical things could, in my Dad’s mind, be indicators of moral failings and I was appalled that he would rush to judgement in that way. But my metta bhavana experience shows that I do it too, probably we all do…which is why I have a tattoo.
I don’t like tattoos. I never have. They are a sure-fire indicator that the wearer is ignorant, ill-educated and part of society’s underclass. This is my gut reaction to seeing someone with a tatoo, my rush to judgement. My own tattoo, therefore, is a challenge to myself not to make instant decisions about others. To try to see beyond the first impression and to try to understand what has led people to make the decisions that they have and to lead the lives that they do.
So, the young man sitting opposite me on the train as I write this, wearing his bright white Nike track suit and talking too loudly on his phone is probably charming if you got to know him and kind to his Mum – probably!