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Excerpted from Handbook for the Heart by Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield (editors). Copyright 1998 by Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield. Excerpted by permission of Time Warner and Time Warner Bookmark.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"Although we all live in the same world, our individual reality is a function not only of external events but of how they're held in our hearts."

Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield (editors)
Handbook for the Heart
, Part 3

Sometimes people feel odd -- when they undertake a practice of a loving heart -- they think it's artificial and it seems mechanical, but in fact, it's not. I often use the example of planting seeds through harnessing the force of our intention, like planting our garden of love. It will definitely blossom, but we have to take those first steps, to risk or be willing to explore what kind of development can occur in the loving heart.

One technique I like is developing metta toward a neutral person. It's interesting because sometimes we have difficulty finding a neutral person. As soon as we think of someone, we have an instant judgment about liking or disliking this person. That's an important revelation. It lets us see that we have an enormous number of neutral people in our lives on whom we've imposed judgments. This can come as a shock to us. It's interesting to consider someone about whom we have no story -- just a generic living being, wanting to be happy, like all of us -- and offering the same care and cherishing we've just offered ourselves and perhaps someone we love deeply. A sense of separation falls away. Some people, in intensive metta during a retreat, contemplate a neutral person and actually have the feelings of falling in love! Not romantically, but in terms of a loving friendship.

One of the tremendous understandings of spiritual practice is the power of the mind. Although we all live in the same world, our individual reality is a function not only of external events but of how they're held in our hearts -- the degree of space in our hearts, the vastness or constriction, the contraction or openness of the mind receiving the external events. The spiritual perspective is not that we're sitting in traffic and are really angry and are trying to pretend we're not. Instead, it's an openness to what we're actually feeling; to understanding suffering; to having a great deal of love, kindness, and compassion for ourselves -- not being stuck in that first reaction of anger. It's having options, choices -- which is what an open heart means, as opposed to a narrow one -- and realizing we can look at matters a different way.

In Lovingkindness, I tell a story about my friend Sylvia Boorstein being on a plane that developed a problem with its hydraulic system. It had to return to the airport, and every five minutes the pilot would announce the countdown over the PA system, "Thirty-five minutes left to land ... thirty minutes left to land." The whole time, Sylvia was consciously doing a loving-kindness practice for the people in her immediate family, enveloping them with care and concern and acknowledging her connection to all of them. 

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