As a spiritual director, I have spiritual disciplines that help me to grow in my relationship with God. Prayer, ritual, retreats and reading spiritual books have been some of my practices over the years. At this time in my life I realize that I have been given a rare opportunity for spiritual deepening in the act of driving my twelve and thirteen year old granddaughters, Addie and Reagan, to and from volleyball practice. For the past two months I have been taking them two or three times a week and have had opportunities to practice what the Buddhists call “Maitri” - lovingkindness – in very practical ways.
First I get to practice patience. I am patient with them as they sometimes arrive slowly to the car and in a grumpy mood. I have learned about waiting peacefully and trusting that this will pass as I am present to them.
Then there is the practice of silence. After the cursory question – how was school or how was practice – it is best if I am silent. Similarly to when I sit on the porch and watch the birds and squirrels, if I am silent, their real life will start to emerge. Sometimes after about three minutes they start to talk about deeper issues and I learn about struggles with the coach or other teammates. Sometimes I hear about academic problems or what is going on in the family. Or it may be a funny story from school. For me, it is all about paying attention and not getting in the way.
There is a kind of letting go that is part of our relationship. I may occasionally suggest a solution to a problem but for the most part I can ask the open ended question: “what do you think you should do?” In a way that I never could as a mom.
And occasionally when I am with them, I experience what I would call flow and almost a mystical unity that is beyond words. It often happens when we listen to the radio and sing Adele together or even Justin Bieber.
This is not to suggest that this is all sweetness and light. There are times in which I practice detachment and have learned to deflect when sisterly bickering starts to emerge. I will tell them that we need to listen to music now and if that doesn’t stop their arguing , I silence them with NPR.
Pema Chodren writes: “Being able to appreciate, being able to look closely, being able to open our minds – this is the core of maitri. “ I definitely appreciate the blessing of being with Reagan and Addie and growing in my own practice of “maitri.”
What is ironic is that their mother, my daughter, texts me that I “rock” because I so willingly drive them. What none of them realize is that spending dedicated time with these girls gives me a special window into their lives as I glimpse their courage, beauty, and resilience as they negotiate the trials and triumphs of middle school.