One of the first (and most challenging) things that an infant learns is deciphering where they – as an individual – stop, and where the rest of the world starts. Safe in their crib, they may think that the brightly colored mobile above their head, that is so pleasing to watch, is actually as much a part of themselves as their fingers or toes.
When first held by their mother, they think their mother’s face, her arms, her bosom, are not outside themselves. They find such joy in their mother’s smile, thinking that it is an expression of their own happiness. They think they are their own source of comfort, failing to realize that this nourishment – physical and emotional – is coming from outside themselves.
As adults, we know better, or at least different. We see that a mother’s smile is a reflection of her child’s responses to being held, fed, or comforted. Infants eventually learn that there is a separation, and that they are a distinct entity unto themselves; they are they, and the world is the world.
One of the most noticeable experiences of Wanderlust is the abundance of smiles. On the way to my first meditation class of the festival, I found myself receiving and giving smile after smile as I passed folks. Each one a total stranger. Giving a smile to a stranger may not seem to be a very big gesture. In practice, it’s effects are compelling; it becomes difficult to discern if the joy really is in the giving, or the receiving.
Countless times – meditating alone – I’ve recited the words that begin with the phrase, “May all sentient beings have happiness and the causes of happiness, may all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.” I find comfort in the realization that as a sentient being, the wish I have for others benefits myself, as well.
This morning, I sat in the middle of a room, filled with strangers, and recited these same words, for the first time, in unison with everyone else. Cast this way, it was evident that many others have been praying for me, in solitude or community, as I have been praying for myself and others.
Our teacher instructed us to pray for the happiness of our most cherished loved one. We prayed for an end of suffering for the person who provokes the most negative feelings in our self. We prayed for the whole world. Everyone. All sentient beings. Myself and animals included.
We prayed as if our happiness was inextricably dependent upon the happiness of others. It was almost as if I couldn’t tell the difference between praying for myself, or praying for the rest of the world.
Professional ski patroller and technology consultant Steve Suraci is happiest when helping others enjoy the hills around his Pennsylvania home. He’s found meditation and yoga to be an effective antidote to life’s uncertainties, and to make more comfortable a body that regularly endures the exertion of skiing. Residing across the valley from a ski area with his faithful hiking and cross-county skiing companion, black Labrador, Beretta, it is common for him to pose the question, to no one in particular, “How much different can heaven be?”