Weekend Reading
April 14, 2024

Through my yoga and mindfulness practice, I’ve been introduced to the concept of maitrī.

Maitrī is part of the brahmavihārā, a series of virtues and attendant practices that can help us to cultivate joy, well-being, and maybe even enlightenment. 

Maitrī is similar to metta, which I’ve written about before; in fact, it’s another word for the same concept. Maitrī is a Sanskrit word, while metta is a Pali word.

Both can be translated, most simply, as loving-kindness.

Loving-kindness, yes. But there are lots of other words that are used to capture the essence of maitrī, and I think it’s illustrative to list some of them: unconditional friendliness, amity, generosity, benevolence, goodwill.

On my flight to Phoenix for a wedding last week, I was reminded of how easy it to lose connection to one’s own capacity for maitrī.

It was a packed flight and an early flight. I’d woken up at 4am to get to the airport.

As is almost always the case when I travel, I’d totally failed to complete the work things that I wanted to do before I left.

So as I was boarding the flight, my mind was racing nervously; I’d have to work in my hotel between wedding festivities, and I was trying to figure it all out.

Once we’d taken off and started cruising, I whipped out my laptop, got on Wifi, and tried to focus.

Airplane flights are often noisy, but there was one especially distracting sound that I couldn’t seem to block out.

The traveler who was seated directly across the aisle from me was watching the news on his smartphone without headphones.

I tried to ignore it, but I couldn’t. He was watching the news, of all things, so it was both noisy and distressing, as the news often is.

Finally, I turned to the man and asked if he might lower the volume. He didn’t seem to understand what I’d said.

The man who was seated in front of me whipped around and explained that my aisle neighbor was his father. His father was hard of hearing, he told me, and had forgotten headphones for the flight.

“I get it,” I said, “but I’m trying to get some work done, and the phone is really loud.”

The son shrugged.

I went back to what I was doing, but I kept turning to my aisle neighbor and scowling.

An hour or so later, when a flight attendant asked him to please either use headphones or turn the phone off, I whispered audibly, “thank you.”

My neighbor spent the rest of his trip awake, but in silence. I got to do some of the work that I thought was so important.

As we were deboarding, my neighbor rose to stand. He got unsteady on his feet and almost fell back into his seat.

I was standing already, of course, impatiently tapping my foot, carry-on item already retrieved from overhead, and eager to get off the plane.

As I saw my neighbor wobble I reached out immediately and instinctively to give him my arm. He grabbed it and clung to it, steadying himself.

“Eighty-nine years old!” he exclaimed to me. He smiled, eyes twinkling.

“Well, that’s wonderful!” I replied, breaking into a big smile myself.

My neighbor kept his hand resting very lightly on my arm until it was time for him to move. His son and I helped to make sure that he got off the plane and safely to the wheelchair that was waiting for him at the gate

Another way of conceptualizing maitrī might be as a willingness to give people the benefit of the doubt.

All I thought about as my neighbor started to watch TV on his phone was the noise. I didn’t put myself in his shoes long enough to remember that everyone is irritable, cramped, and sleep-deprived on an early morning flight. He was probably just trying to distract himself and get through it, not realizing how loud the phone actually was.

When he said to me, “eighty-nine years old,” my neighbor succinctly gave me a window into his reality. He reminded me that there are things that come with not yet being eighty-nine that I take for granted—ease of hearing, ease of seeing, mobility.

As I was writing this post, I read a little more on maitrī. I found a video in which Pema Chödrön explains what maitrī is, calling it the “basis of compassion.”

Interestingly, she describes it as “unconditional friendship with oneself.” (My emphasis, not hers.)

“And this is very hard to come by,” she says. “Unconditional acceptance, you could say, of yourself. Unconditional friendship with oneself.”

Chödrön is communicating something profound, which is that all compassion comes from self-compassion, and our relationship with ourselves sets the tone for how we treat others.

It’s impossible to summon up generosity of spirit to other beings if we’re incapable of extending a little friendliness and forgiveness to ourselves.

So instead of feeling guilty and self-critical for having initially failed to be more kind and understanding of my airplane neighbor, I acknowledge that I was stuck in my own anxious place that morning. I was trying to focus on work because I feel perpetually bad about what I haven’t been able to accomplish.

I was worried that the upcoming wedding might sadden me, as so many others have in the past. (It didn’t.)

That’s why I responded as I did, without much interest in my neighbor’s reality. It’s something I was able to make amends for, at least a little.

Wishing you an abundance of compassion in the week ahead. I hope that it flows so freely through your way of being with yourself that you can easily share it.

Happy Sunday, friends. Here are some recipes and reads.

Recipes

1. I haven’t made homemade vegan cheese with anything other than cashews for a while. I’m feeling inspired by this recipe for almond-based cheese.

2. Speaking of that, I’d love to use my cashew parmesan to make a modified version of this fava bean and fennel salad. I really don’t prepare fresh fava beans enough during their short season.

3. This lemony artichoke quinoa salad would be A+ for vegan meal prep.

4. An easy, tasty flatbread pizza always makes for a good supper.

5. These lemon poppyseed cookies look delightful!

Reads

1. This chronicle of running a marathon with a chronic illness is an uplifting testament to resilience and meeting one’s body where it is.

2. “Carefluencers” are sharing their experiences of caring for loved ones who are nearing end of life.

3. Human brains are getting a little bigger, and this may be good news for dementia risk.

4. I know that social media creates a lot of good, but as a dietitian who works with teens and young adults, I really worry about restriction that’s being normalized on TikTok.

5. At the same time, I think it’s pretty incredible that an eight-year-old is sharing on Instagram about her journey to manage and heal from ARFID.

This week, a new favorite lunch recipe.

Till soon,

xo

 

 

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