Learning to Meditate
When I was in my second year of Harvard Medical School, I had a depression, which lasted for about 4 months (the worst part of it).
Prior to this depression, I had learned a type of meditation called Metta meditation. Metta involves saying several phrases to yourself. They can include, “May you be happy and have the causes of happiness in your life; may you be healthy and have the causes of health and your life; may you be free from suffering and have the causes of freedom from suffering in your life; may you live with ease and have a causes for ease in your life.”
There are two famous meditation teachers, Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein, who suggest that beginners repeat these phrases while also visualizing an object in your mind. It may be easier to start out with an object that we like. For example, it could be a boyfriend or girlfriend, a family member, a best friend, or any other being whom we like or love.
Once you feel comfortable repeating the phrases for people whom you like or love, you can include a “neutral” object. This means you can visualize a stranger you saw earlier in the day at the supermarket or on the subway. Then, once you get comfortable with this, a more advanced Metta practice is to include people whom you dislike.
About one month ago, I decided to begin practicing meditation again. The reason for this was that a friend texted me a podcast featuring Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist, who studies the effects of meditation on the brain. After I listened to the podcast, I decided that meditation is beneficial for health and that I should try it again.
When I sat down to meditate on September 19th, 2017, I saw that one of my closest friends, my dog, Georgette, was sitting right next to me. Cool, I thought. I love Georgette unconditionally. She could defecate in the middle of our house, and I wouldn’t be mad at her. I’ll start with her as an object.
The experience of using Georgette as an object for meditation has been mind-blowing. The first thing I noticed is that when I repeat the phrase may you have happiness and the causes of happiness in your life, the first cause of happiness for Georgette is attention. When I pay attention to Georgette, her tail begins wagging, and I can see that she is happier.
The next thing I noticed when I repeated the phrase may you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering in your life is that when Georgette feels fear she suffers. She also suffers when she is hungry, when she feels wanting without having. And she suffers when she has delusions. For example, she believes that all people on bikes may try to hurt her. Any time she sees a biker, even if it’s me or another person whom she loves, she will try to hide from the biker.
I am grateful to Georgette because since I started meditating with her I am less angry. When I think back to the doctors at Harvard Medical School, who viewed my depression as a weakness, and, therefore, who viewed patients as weak, I now feel less anger and more compassion for their ignorance.