Today, someone I know who has been battling cancer for decades, was on her way to Johns Hopkins, shopping for hope in the form of some new clinical trial or some treatment that would stem the tide of the cancer cells in her body.
Her text said: Heading to Johns Hopkins. Asking for prayers.
When I was a little girl in Catholic school I knew how to pray. I would ask Jesus to help. I would even ask my patron saint to intercede with Jesus on her behalf.
But I don’t do that anymore. When you don’t have faith in a particular spiritual metaphysics, the whole “prayer” thing becomes problematic.
But I don’t do nothing. I do this thing I called “sending Metta” that I first learned at Kripalu a long time ago.
Here’s what happened. There were a lot of us in that yoga teacher training that week, maybe 50, all sitting around in a big circle in the main hall the first night.
The directors of the program asked us to look around the circle and choose one person. This was going to be our secret metta friend. I don’t know if they actually called it that, but here’s what we were to do. Every time we saw that person in the coming week: in the hallway, at meals, in sessions, walking outside, we were to mentally think to ourselves: May you be peaceful, may you be happy, may all good things come into your life. We could also add anything else we liked of a sweet and positive nature.
So I picked this blonde woman named Carole. (We all wore name tags.) Every time I saw Carole that week I would say in my mind, “May you be happy, Carole. May your life unfold with joy.”
One time we were browsing in the bookstore together. I stood right behind her in line to pay and spent a good, solid 5 minutes sending her all this good mojo.
Carole and I were never paired up in a group that whole week, which was really unusual, but that’s how it rolled. Still, I would see her at dinner, and once I held the door to the bathroom open for her.
I was sending this woman a shit ton of metta. I remember sitting on the wide Kripalu lawn one afternoon during a break and watching her walk up the driveway. I sent tsunamis of metta to her every step of the way.
That whole week I almost felt like a love sniper the way I was always on the lookout for her, holding her in the cross-hairs of my attention.
After a week the training ended and we all dispersed and I never told Carole that I was her Secret Santa of Metta. I did wonder, though, how the week flowed for her. Did anything wonderful happen for her? Did she feel anything? Did she have great dreams? Was I getting through?
Surprisingly, I never thought about myself as the target of someone else’s metta. If I was, I didn’t feel anything. One time I got into a meditative state and tried to pick up a signal but never got one. So I just figured that since there were so many of us, it was totally possible that no one targeted me.
What I did notice though, was that my obsessive meta-sending to Carole changed me. I was always on the lookout for her, I was always sending sweetness and good vibes and well-wishes for this random person’s happiness, and that act, in itself sweetened me.
So I realized, it didn’t matter at all if Carole got my metta-vibes; what was important was the sending, not the receiving.
So I think this is the way I pray. I don’t “pray to God” the way I used to as a child. I send metta. I think of metta like a radio wave that is really strong and can reach anyone anywhere if their antennae are up to receive.
And if it so happens that their antennae are not up, then the transaction just floats through the ether until it picks up one that is.
So when Cindy asked for prayers, that’s what I sent. When someone asks for prayers I think what they are saying is: My receivers are up and on. I am looking for metta so please send and if you do, I will get it.
I hope she got it.