Loving Kindness Wishes
Dear Friends, In addition to our annual spring party, in May and June we celebrate lots of birthdays. My twins just turned 19, my birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, and I recently did a yoga birthday party for a student. So I have been in a birthday mode lately. In addition to eating good food and cake, there is a tradition of offering good wishes to the birthday celebrant. We say things like: I wish you a happy birthday, I wish you another year of health, or I wish you a relaxing day.
And I was thinking about how birthday wishes are a lot like metta, or loving-kindness phrases. Some of the phrases we use for practicing metta are: May you be happy, May you be healthy, and May you live with ease. Very similar to our birthday wishes. Even when we make birthday or metta wishes with our whole heart, we still know that your happiness and well-being isn't simply the result of our wishes for you. However much we wish you a happy birthday, we don't have the power to stop you from getting sick, being hurt, or breaking up with your girlfriend on that day. In Buddhism, this insight is called equanimity, or upekkha.
So knowing the truth of equanimity, that our wishes can't control the outcome, why do we spend so much time, money, and energy wishing each other well, especially on our birthdays?
I have the sense that my good wishes matter, otherwise I wouldn't spend as much time as I do repeating metta phrases and including phrases like "I hope you have a wonderful day" at the end of an email. I don't think it's just habit or courtesy. So there must be a way that my good wishes impact others, however mysterious that might be.
For one thing, when I wish you well, I am affecting my outlook on life. I am opening my heart to you and your needs, rather than staying interested only in my own well-being. The Buddha listed 11 specific benefits of sending good wishes to others:
1) You will sleep easily. 2) You will wake easily. 3) You will have pleasant dreams. 4) People will love you. 5) Devas [celestial beings] and animals will love you. 6) Devas will protect you. 7) External dangers will not harm you. 8) Your face will be radiant. 9) Your mind will be serene. 10) You will die unconfused. 11) You will be reborn in happy realms.
Now I can't guarantee that if you wish me a happy birthday this month, you will be reborn in a happy realm, or even that animals will love you, but from my own practice I have found that sending good wishes to others definitely makes me feel better. And it helps me act more in accordance with my deepest aspiration not to harm others. As soon as I make the sincere wish for you to have a happy birthday, in that moment I feel a connection to you and your life. And when I am in touch with that connection, rather than living in my own separate world, I am more likely to act in ways that support you and your life. So in a still somewhat mysterious way, my wishes may have an effect on your life.
may you be well,